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What greeting will you hear when you come to Lake Rotorua on New Zealand's North Island? Kia ora!! Kia ora means 'Be healthy' or 'well' in the Maori language, and much of the early European settlement at Lake Rotorua was based on health. The geothermal springs with their high mineral content was the basis of early spa and 'medical' baths created so the well-to-do could come here to rest, rejuvenate and hopefully cure such conditions as arthritis, hysteria, lymph congestion and fatigue. Because of geothermal activity around the lake (including still active geysers and hot mud pools), the lake has a high sulphur content. This gives the lake's waters an unusual yellowish-green hue. In some areas, the high sulphur content can eat the webbing from lake-dwelling birds' feet.
Lake Rotorua is formed by the collapsed caldera of an ancient volcano and is generally much more shallow than nearby lakes. Many small tributaries feed the lake; some are warm, spring-fed streams such as Whakarewarewa, Kuirau and Ohinemutu. These are balanced by the cold waters of Hamurana, Rainbow, Fairy and Ngongotaha. The latter is famed as a trout fishery. Fishing access is provided at nearly all tributary streams and several commercial boat launch areas around the lake. At the north eastern corner of the lake, Rotorua flows directly into Lake Rotoiti via the Ohau Channel; this channel is navigable by boat and is also favored by fly fishermen. Adjoining the Ohau Channel, the Mourea delta, with its very low water levels is very attractive to swimmers and novice kayakers. Lake Rotorua is the second largest lake on the North Island in area, but much smaller than many nearby lakes in total water volume due to its shallow bottom.
The main town on Lake Rotorua is Rotorua on the south shore. Here, mineral baths were developed early, operated by a variety of well-respected medical doctors who prescribed massages, mud baths and hot mineral water treatment. Some bathing establishments still exist but the most famous - the Blue Baths - is in the process of being restored. The famed Rotorua Bath House is now under the care of the Rotorua Museum where restored portions are open for tours with accompanying narrative of the history, treatments and famous visitors from the Bath's past. Because of the early development of the baths, many vacation rentals exist in the form of restored Victorian resorts and cottages along the shore.
The Rotorua Museum is a great place for the visitor to become acquainted with the history and geology of the Lake Rotorua region. Here, exhibits will explain the dynamics of the geothermal features in the landscape along with their history as is currently understood. Here too, the visitor will become familiar with the Maori settlement and 750 year history on the North island after their migration from Polynesia. Their legends, myths and beliefs will be explained and a stellar exhibit of the Maori World War II battalion's history in battle is provided. One finds that the Maori lost many, many warriors to the battles in Northern Africa.
One favorite excursion for the visitor to Lake Rotorua is a cruise to Mokoia Island. This rhyolite dome, close to the center of the lake, is owned by four local Maori iwi or tribes. The island is the subject of several famed Maori myths and preserved as a wildlife sanctuary. Because of the lack of natural predators and the care with which visitors are allowed on the island, a variety of rare and endangered birds and plants have been brought here to increase their populations. Mokoia Island is a botanical sanctuary for native plants such as Totara, Pohutukawa, Kawakawa, Karaka, Totara, Whau, Puriri, Pohutukawa, Cabbage trees, and native plants like the Pikopiko, Titoki, Flax and various ferns that were essential everyday ingredients for the Maori people who have lived there. Bird species thriving here include the Pukeko (swamp hen), Papango (Teal), and Tui. Kiwi,Saddleback (Tieke), Weka, North Island Robin (Toutouwai), and Kokako. Access to Mokoia Island is restricted to permitted operators only, who must undergo certain inspections and procedures to assure their vessels are pest-free. Cruise times and reservations are available at the Museum on the mainland.
Lake Rotorua is a favored fishery, with brown trout and rainbow trout caught at the mouths of tributaries where they follow the smelt to spawn. The lake is home to most water sports, including power boating, water skiing, wind surfing, sailing, canoeing and kayaking. Other visitors come to observe not only the wildlife on Mokoia Island but the variety of water birds found around the lake itself; Australian black swans, red-billed gull, dabchick, mallard duck and Caspian tern call Lake Rotorua home.
New Zealand history and Maori tradition adventures are easily located around Lake Rotorua: Te Wairoa Buried Village, buried by volcanic explosion in June, 1888 with the loss of over 150 lives, is a short side-trip from Rotorua. Partially excavated, the exhibit explores native lifestyle and European settlement in the 1800s as it attempted to co-exist in an active volcanic zone. Another favored destination is Whakarewarewa Thermal Village a few miles south of Rotorua. This active Maori village has developed tours and activities which showcase the Maori lifestyle in a traditional village, including meals cooked over active thermal vents. Nearby the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland invites the visitor to view bubbling hot mud springs, geysers and steam vents in a surreal landscape.
The Lake Rotorua area is particularly popular with the activity-focused visitor, with bungee-jumping, white-water rapids running, sky-diving, off-road racing and even a giant hamster ball-type of downhill roll adventure for thrill-seekers. As is expected in New Zealand, nightlife is focused on the many unusual bars and clubs catering to the adventurous. One can always meet new friends at a nightclub frequented by sky-divers or river runners. There is no shortage of places to stay for a night, a week or a season. Vacation rentals include cottages, bed-and-breakfast locations, resorts. fishing camps,condos and timeshares. Camping facilities can be found both on the lake and in the surrounding area. Local real estate opportunities exist both for business and personal residences.
So, Kia ora!! Join native New Zealanders and visitors alike. Come to Lake Rotorua and check out the activities, the trout and the history. There is enough here to keep you busy for many a season. Once you experience Lake Rotorua, you'll be determined to return.
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