Rotorua is a city of 60,000 around the edge of Lake Rotorua. It is best known for the active geothermal region it is situated within and has been part of the NZ tourism scene for about 140 years. The lake itself is a 240,000 year old caldera and part of the enormous active volcanic region that stretches from White Island through Rotorua and Taupō to Tongariro National Park.
The name comes from ‘roto’ meaning lake and ‘rua’ meaning two: ‘Lake Two’. Te Arawa iwi presence dates back to Te Arawa chief and explorer Ihenga. It was the second major lake he discovered upon arriving in the region, hence the name. For a less prosaic version of how Te Arawa became associated with Rotorua, read here!
The first Europeans arrived in the late 1820s and it didn’t take long before tourists were turning up to enjoy the natural wonders of geysers and hot pools. The New Zealand Wars of the 1860s affected the region for a time, but by 1883 the town had special status to help its development as a spa town. From a meeting between Māori and European representatives, Māori agreed to gift 50 hectares of thermal springs “hei oranga mō ngā iwi katoa o te Ao”, translated as “for the benefit of the people of the world.”
Consequently, several historic facilities were developed near the edge of the lake between Sulphur Point and Te Ruapeka Bay. This included the Bath House (now the museum), Government Gardens and Polynesian Pools (now Polynesian Spa). The Bath House and Pools piped water from nearby thermal springs directly into their facilities and rooms. This became a general Rotorua thing up until the 1980s when the geysers began to disappear and the bore holes were shut down.
Take a walk around Government Gardens and the nearby lake walkway to get an insight into where and how the tourism industry started, and access the Gardens from the northeast side of downtown Rotorua.