Whakarewarewa (reduced version of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao, meaning The gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao, often abbreviated to Whaka by locals) is a geothermal area within Rotorua city in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand.
The Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao people of New Zealand have a proud heritage which they have shared with visitors from all around the world for over two hundred years. Since the early 1800’s they have been hosting and welcoming visitors into their homes and backyards, demonstrating the utilization of the natural geothermal wanders for cooking and bathing and sharing their geothermal existence continues to fascinate tourists visiting Whakarewarewa today.
This was the site of the Maori fortress of Te Puia, first occupied around 1325, and known as an impenetrable stronghold never taken in battle. Maori have lived here ever since, taking full advantage of the geothermal activity in the valley for heating and cooking.
Incorporating the magnificence of the geothermal landscape and the unique experience of a traditional Maori village, Whakarewarewa is a place of natural wonder and spiritual significance. 500 hot springs and 65 geyser vents are set among the distinctly colourful sinter terraces and pools that make up Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley. Only three kilometres from Rotorua, it is an extremely popular tourism destination. Below you can see the geothermal cooker and geothermal veggie patch.
Many of the thermal features at Whakarewarewa have been adversely affected by Rotorua residents taking advantage of the underlying geothermal fluids of the city by drawing shallow wells (20–200 m deep) to extract hot water for both domestic and commercial heating. A bore closure programme in 1987-1988 resulted in 106 wells within 1.5 km of Pohutu Geyser being cemented shut, with another 120 wells outside the radius being shut due to a punitive royalty charging regime. There has subsequently been a pronounced recovery in the geysers and hot springs at Whakarewarewa.
Whakarewarewa has some 500 pools, most of which are alkaline chloride hot springs, and at least 65 geyser vents, each with their own name. Seven geysers are currently active. The most famous, Pohutu Geyser, meaning big splash or explosion, can erupt up to 30 m, usually every hour.
Whakarewarewa is known as the Living Thermal Village, the Pa, a Maori village where you may roam among the whares (traditional carved houses) and marvel at how the indigenous peoples of New Zealand lived not so very long ago. Daily guided tours provide a glimpse into how the Maori of this region lived in harmony with the abundantly resourceful geothermal environment. It really does feel as if you walk straight into someones ‘life’ when you enter. The original community owns the grounds and also profits from the tourism. You really do feel like your dollar goes straight to the communities and not some bigger corporate entity.
Maori have lived at this site for 700 years, and today it is home to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, the guardian-place of Maori arts, crafts and culture.
Having had your fill of the sights, the sounds and the aromas, relax at the cafe and enjoy corn on the cob cooked fresh in the steaming waters of the hot springs or try a traditional Hangi meal, cooked in a pit of hot stones and layers of flax and earth. What could be closer to an authentic Maori experience!
Words and Pictures: Daréll Lourens