If you are visiting the geothermal town of Rotorua, New Zealand, then make sure you don’t miss out on these unique places to visit only a short drive away. Easily explored in half a day, The Buried Village of Te Wairoa and the Blue and Green Lakes are two must see stops within a scenic fifteen-minute drive from Rotorua city centre.
The Blue Lake (Tikitapu) and Green Lake (Rotokakahi)
These two neighbouring lakes both different in size and colour are only 12 kms from Rotorua. On a clear sunny day, they are both distinct in intensity. On the way to Lake Tarawera, the Blue and Green Lakes are stunning to view and in Summer months, popular for picnics and walks.
As you follow Tarawera Road you will encounter the Blue Lake first. This is the larger of the two and was formed first approximately 13,500 years ago. Its turquoise blue colour is due to the reflection from the white rhyolite and pumice bottom. The Blue Lake is a favourite for the locals. Swimming (though the water is freezing), boating and trout fishing are popular and BBQ, picnic facilities, playgrounds and sandy beaches entice visitors. A walking track encircles the lake and can be completed in an hour.
Further just past the Blue Lake is the entrance to the Green Lake carpark. It is here you can obtain a spectacular view of both Lakes from the one spot! At the entrance is a small hill with a few steps (overlooked if you do not know about it!). Climb to the top and devour the stunning panorama of both lakes at the same time.
The Green Lake (Rotokakahi) is named after the shellfish Kakahi. This Lake was formed 13,300 years ago and its emerald green colour is due to the shallow sandy bottom. This Lake is privately owned by the Maori and is a sacred (tapu) place, meaning no swimming, boating or fishing is permitted. The small island of Motutawa, within the lake is the significant burial ground to many of the tribe’s ancestors. The natural beauty of these two bordering lakes is a definite sight not to be missed.
The Buried Village of Te Wairoa
The archaeological site of Te Wairoa retells the tale of New Zealand’s greatest natural disaster. The village of Te Wairoa was once the gateway to the eighth wonder of the natural world, The Pink and White Terraces on the shores of Lake Rotomahana. Formed over 500 years ago, these silica rich geological formations of hot and cold step-styled pools attracted many travellers to this region of the north island. Many would come to bathe in the warm springs of this beautiful natural wonder. But when the sudden volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in the early hours of June 10, 1886, the famous Pink and White Terraces were lost forever.
The violent eruption buried several smaller nearby villages in scorching ash and mud, and Lake Rotomahana exploded, engulfing the terraces and destroying all around. The volcano triggered several earthquakes which subsequently effected the nearby village of Te Wairoa. Te Wairoa’s settlement of Europeans and local Maori residents which was established in 1848 was sadly destroyed in 1886 killing around 150 people.
From this catastrophic tragedy, the Smith Family, through multiple generations, privately bought the land and conducted excavations and preservation of many artefacts and remnants from the twelve-acre site. These relics are presented within the museum along with other significant information and interactive displays.
The outdoor area of the site is lush and green, questionable to what took place 133 years ago. The village is now reconstructed and recreated, however you can appreciate what took place all those years ago. Converting the village into a historic museum and archaeological site, provides locals and tourists with knowledge and important information of what once was at the now Buried Village of Te Wairoa.
After walking through the site, there is an optional hike to the impressive Wairere Waterfall. The native bush trail is quite scenic but requires a bit of stamina as the path is challenging and full of steep steps. In colder seasons it can also be muddy and slippery. This captivating walk along the Wairoa stream where wild trout reside, lead you to the glorious falls where you won’t be disappointed. Just make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and allow an extra 20-30 mins for the trail.
The Buried Village of Te Wairoa is a great day out with the kids too. Kids will love the Children’s Discovery Room and interactive displays. There is a treasure hunt for clues scattered around the site and they can explore alongside the resident Archaeologist Smithy!
After exploring the site relax at the café with a tea or coffee while the kids play in the playground.
Combo tickets include Museum, archaeological site & Waterfall
Under 5: Free
Open 7 Days a week. Closed Christmas Day
Summer: 9am -5pm
Winter: 9am -4.30pm
15 minutes from Rotorua on Tarawera Road.
From Rotorua travel southeast along Te Ngae Road towards the airport. At the roundabout, turn right into Tarawera Road and follow the signs for the Blue Lake. Signs for the Buried Village are displayed along. Drive past the Blue and Green Lakes towards Lake Tarawera and the Village is on the right-hand side of the road.