Tauranga, Rotorua, and Te Puia

We didn’t actually get into Tauranga; we docked a few kilometers away and took a van to Rotorua to see Te Puia. Te Puia is where most of the geysers, steam vents, and hot mud pools are. I think “geyser” is a German word that Americans and New Zealanders more or less pronounce correctly; the Brits insist on saying, “geezer”.

The town of Rotorua has steam vents and mud pools, but no geysers, scattered around in parks and back yards. It’s a little like building a town in the middle of Yellowstone. But the location was chosen by the Mãori quite a while ago. I’m not sure if they attached religious significance to the area but they found the hot water and mud useful.

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They gave Doré a wheelchair and people kept volunteering to push.

The Europeans made the area a tourist attraction in the early 19th century but not for the geysers. People (i.e., wealthy people from England) came to see the “pink and white ledges,” that apparently were quite spectacular until an earthquake in 1880 created a large lake and put the ledges 60 meters under water. Then the powers that be (who probably owned the hotels and ran the excursions) decided that the hot water and mud pools must have therapeutic value.

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It is relatively recently that people stopped taking the cure and came just to admire.

The site contains a reconstructed Mãori village that was worth seeing like New Salem, Illinois. The local Mãori demonstrated a traditional ritual designed to determine if a visitor was friendly or hostile. They determined us friendly so followed up with a lot of singing and dancing. We skipped the traditional meal, or hangi, which is cooked underground with hot stones, similar to a Hawaiian luau.

Coming and going (it was over an hour each way) we learned a lot about kiwi (the fruit, not the bird, although there was a bit of that too and I did manage to actually see a bird, sort of.) The kiwi fruit is from China, sometimes called Chinese gooseberry. Some seeds were brought back to New Zealand, which would be illegal today, by a tourist to China in the early 20th century. After some selective breeding (aka, genetic modification), they were rebranded as “kiwi”, grown commercially, and exported to Europe about 1950. The rebranding was the clever part. The rest is history.

The kiwi bird is a familiar symbol, a short, round flightless bird with vestigial wings. It is nocturnal about the same color as its surrounding, especially in the dark. The Te Puia site has a kiwi house where they have reversed day and night for the benefit of tourists. It was still very dark and the kiwi was still the color of its surrounding. I saw one; Doré didn’t.

Around 1900, I think, the New Zealand rugby team, the All Black, needed a symbol. The “Europeans” on the team were ready to adopt the Kiwi bird as that symbol but the Mãori on the team objected on the grounds that, “They’re stupid, they can’t fly, and we eat them.” They suggested the silver fern. The top of the leaves are green but the underside is silver, which almost glows in the dark. The Mãori used them to mark the trail as they went to attach another group to guide them home victoriously. So they associated it with battle and victory. It was immediately accepted the team and has become as ubiquitous as the Kiwi as a symbol for New Zealand.

Tomorrow, Wellington.

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