Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | January 30, 2013

Rotorua – II

Rotorua Museum is housed in a bathhouse. The bathhouse was once a famous geothermal spa offering treatment to visitors from around the globe. The museum tour is relatively expensive (compared to a trip to the Auckland museum) and covers a guided tour of the bathhouse, a big section on Maori culture and two films of half an hour duration each. The museum building in itself is quite good looking and like all the museums that we have seen here is well restored and attended by volunteers as well as visitors.

We reached the museum and started our tour with the first movie about Rotorua’s past. The short film narrates the mythological and the scientific explanation to Rotorua’s volcanic landscape. I do find such stories interesting in a sense that all civilisations traditionally believe that as soon as people become greedy, God brings about destructions, but still human beings continue to be greedy daring God’s wrath. Maori’s of Rotorua had similar beliefs too. Rotorua’s land always exhibited geothermal activities, which attracted lot of English tourists to enjoy the mud pools and lakes. The surge of tourists made the natives greedy and consequently the impending volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera.

Eleven days before the eruption, a boat full of tourists saw a Maori war canoe (or waka) approach their boat and disappear in the mist. Nobody around the lake owned such a war canoe and none had seen such a canoe for many years. While tourists who experienced the event stood by what they saw, sceptics never believed such an event ever happened. The village elders that time saw the approaching war canoe as a sign of doom.

Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886, killing more than hundred people and destroying villages. It continues to be the largest dome volcano eruption and largest historic eruption in New Zealand. Earthquakes are not uncommon to this country and neither have been the volcanoes. Such events when they happen bring about widespread destruction but then in many ways it also provides opportunity for new beginnings.

In the short film, we had a little feel of the eruption through effects of sound, the lights in the room and yes all the chairs in the room started shaking vigorously. Thankfully, the building did not fall on our head for the time being. It was good and nobody was scared!

After the cinema experience, we had a tour of baths. While, looking at unused baths, photos of people bathing (and literally getting treated by use of electricity!) and the intricate underground pipes did not excite me much, some of the aspects through were interesting.

The baths were built to bring back tourists to the town of Rotorua which was once a bustling tourist destination devastated following the volcanic eruption. The facilities in the bathhouse matched the best in those days. As New Zealand, does not produce iron; all the metallic pipes etc were imported. The building was built with the best wood available and was very attractive. Though initially it attracted lot of tourists, slowly the distance (and the wars) affected the business. Further, it became really expensive to maintain the building (in absence of lot of visitors), given the land of Rotorua always offered challenge to the wooden structure. Hence, the bathhouse was not as successful as anticipated.

If you are interested you can read more about the bathhouse here.

Next we visited the Maori art section which housed beautiful artefacts, weapons and other historical relics of the Arawa iwi (tribe), the original inhabitants of the area. This section of the museum is informative (but you cannot take photos) and houses some of the most unique things that I have ever seen. Our volunteer guide provided very good insight to the history, habits, changing lifestyle over time of the people of the land. Though I must admit with the absence of photos, it is difficult for me to remember and coherently write everything that she said.

We finished our tour by visiting the rooftop for some pleasant views of the lake and the city. We did not watch the second film on Maoris who fought the world war.




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