The Rotorua region is home to more than 1200 geothermal features and unique landforms, including bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers, and mineral hot springs. These incredible forces of nature present spectacular scenery and photo opportunities. However, as well as being visually fascinating, Rotorua’s geothermal activity is also rich in historical, cultural, and spiritual significance. Geothermal resources were revered by the Maori people who saw themselves as the Kaitaki or guardians of the pools which offered so much to them including uses for cooking, bathing, and medicinal purposes, as well as spiritual rituals and practices.
Formed over 8500 years ago, Lake Rotoiti is a combination of two lakes that have joined as one, with the Western section being a drowned valley and the Eastern section a volcanic depression (the Okataina Caldera). For this reason, the Eastern shores of Lake Rotoiti have geothermal activity beneath them and are home to numerous hot sulfur springs including the Manupirua thermal springs, which feed Lake Rotoiti Hot Pools.
Lake Rotoiti’s full name is Te Roto-Whaiti-i-kite-ai-a-Ihenga-i-Ariki-ai-a Kahumatamomoe. The lake was discovered by the Māori explorer Īhenga, who was also credited with discovering Lake Rotorua as well as several other landmarks on the North Island. Legend dictates that Īhenga traveled inland on an expedition to explore the area with his dog Potakatawhiti, who disappeared for some time. Upon its return, the dog regurgitated whitebait. Realizing that he must be near a body of water, Īhenga ended up on the shores of a pristine lake in the mouth of a small bay. His first impression of the lake deceived Īhenga into thinking it was not of great size, thus coining the name Lake Rotoiti or Te Roto-Whaiti-i-kite-ai-a-Ihenga-i-Ariki-ai-a Kahumatamomoe, which translated means “The Small Lake Discovered By Īhenga”.
The Legend of the Manupirua Springs is one that follows two sisters by the names of Kuiwai and Haungaroa and their quest to save their brother Ngatoroirangi, who needed help as he was perishing from the cold on Mt. Tongariro. The sisters’ journey began in the legendary ancestral homeland of the Maori people, Hawaiki, where they collected warmth to take to their dying brother. Whenever they paused for rest they left part of the fire they were carrying behind. Legend has it that these frequent rest stops are the origins of the chain of geothermal activity that spans the width of their journey from Whakaari (White Island) to Mt. Tongariro. Subsequently, Manupirua was one of their intermediate stops and ever since has been a source of warmth for the people of Lake Rotoiti.
The Manupirua thermal springs have been in use by Maori and locals alike since before 1849 and have been used on a commercial basis since 1914. The springs now supply an expanding collection of hot pools with a range of temperatures, overlooking the pristine waters of Lake Rotoiti.