Lakes of the Thermal Region, New Zealand
Lakes are a common feature of New Zealand’s landscape, both in the North Island and South Island. They are well known for their scenic beauty and the recreational opportunities they offer. Twelve of the lakes are centred around Rotorua in what is known as the thermal region. As well as the thermal activity in the area, the lakes are a huge tourist attraction for both locals and travellers.
The largest lake in this area is Lake Rotorua, covering 83 sq km. The lake was formed by a volcanic eruption. Rotorua, the tourist resort on the shores of the lake, is the base for exploring the surrounding thermal region. The name Rotorua means ‘second lake’, as it was the second lake discovered by Ihenga, a 14th century Maori who explored the previously uninhabited area.
Fishing for rainbow trout is one of the major attractions of the lake, with anglers coming from all over the world to catch this species of fish introduced to New Zealand from North America in about 1883 and 1884.
Cruising on the lake is another popular tourist activity, with some tour operators offering a visit to Mokoia Island in the centre of the lake. Others go through the Ohau Channel to adjacent Lake Rotoiti.
Lake Tarawera is the fifth biggest lake in the North Island, with an area of 39 sq km. It was enlarged after the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera, when it emptied during the eruption, then refilled over a larger area immediately afterwards. Tarawera means ‘burnt spear’ in Maori. This refers to a Maori hunter who left his spears behind in a hut after a bird hunting expedition. When he returned the following season, both the hut and the spears had been burnt to the ground.
As well as the recreational activities of the lake, tourists usually visit the area to see the Tarawera Buried Village, featuring the excavation of the village after the 1886 eruption. The smaller Green and Blue Lakes on the Tarawera road are popular boating and picnic spots.
About 30 km from Rotorua is Lake Rotomahana, world famous before 1886 for the Pink and White Terraces. They had been formed over thousands of years by a geyser leaving silica deposits, creating a terraced landscape in shades of pink and white. These terraces, once a major tourist attraction, were completely destroyed in the 1886 Tarawera eruption. Thankfully many artists had travelled to the region to paint the spectacular sight and these images are the only way of knowing that the Pink and White Terraces ever existed. As with Lake Tarawera, Lake Rotomahana emptied during the eruption, refilling to form a larger lake afterwards. This lake is thermally active with hot bubbling springs and steam coming up from its banks. Lake Rotomahana means ‘warm lake’.
History, Recreation and Relaxation
A visit to the thermal region surrounding Rotorua should be a must on every tourist’s agenda. The surrounding lakes offer an insight to the history of the area, as well as unlimited opportunities for relaxing, fishing, swimming, boating and other water sports. Visiting the lakes mentioned above also offers the chance to see or pass by some of the smaller lakes in the region.
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