The Unquiet Earth

New Zealand, 1885. English historian J.A. Froude follows a popular tourist route to the North Island’s thermal region.

…..we saw in the distance a blue, singular range of mountains, while immediately underneath us, a thousand feet down, stretched a long, greenish lake with an island in the middle of it, and a cluster of white houses six miles off standing on the shore. The lake was Rotorua; the white houses were Ohinemutu, the end of our immediate journey.

Rotorua_Ohine

As we drew nearer to our destination both Ohinemutu and the district touching it seemed to be on fire. Columns of what appeared to be smoke were rising out of the Ti-tree bush, from the lake shore, and from the ditches by the roadside. We should have found the lake itself lukewarm if we could have dipped our hands in the water.

The smoke which we had seen was steam rising from boiling springs – alkaline, siliceous, sulphuretted, and violently acid – not confined, too, exactly to the same spot, but bursting out where they please through the crust of the soil. You walk one day over firm ground, where the next you find a bubbling hole, into which if you unwarily step, your foot will be of no further service to you. These springs extend for many miles; they are in the island on the lake; they must be under the lake itself to account for its temperature. Across the water among the trees a few miles off, a tall column of steam ascends, as if from an engine. It arises from a gorge where a sulphurous and foul smelling liquid ….. bubbles and boils and spouts its filthy mud eternally. I have no taste for horrors, and did not visit this foul place, which they call Tikiteri.

Rotorua_Tikitere

The native settlement [Whakarewarewa] was at one time very large, and must have been one of the most important in New Zealand. It owed its origins doubtless to these springs, not from any superstitious reason, but for the practical uses to which the Maori apply them.

Rotorua_Whaka

They cook their cray-fish and white-fish, which they catch in the lake, in them; they boil their cabbage, they wash their clothes in them, and they wash themselves.

Rotorua_cooking

Text source: ‘Oceana, the tempestuous voyage of J.A. Froude, 1884 & 1885.’ Ed. Geoffrey Blainey. 1985.
Images from postcards in my collection.

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