Hamurana Springs is one of those magical places which stays with you. The crystal blue water and lush green water plants swirling in the current are mesmerising, with an occasional glimpse of dark trout against the white sand.
Hamurana Springs is 18km northeast of Rotorua city centre, past Ngongotaha. The entrance is just past Hamurana Springs and Gardens Golf Resort on the edge of Lake Rotorua. I remember as a child being transfixed with the numerous chickens and water fowl. It is still a refuge for birds - NZ scaup, dab chick, heron, black swan, and pukeko. A little shop sold refreshments in those days, but I prefer the current set-up - no rubbish, no commerce, just a beautiful tranquil place, which is sacred to Maori and no doubt to many non-Maori visitors.
In 1919, coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempevirens) were planted on one side of the spring outflow, it is thought by a local farmer. These majestic forest giants provide a calm, quiet, cathedral-like atmosphere on the meandering walk along the stream edge to the head of the springs. The soft brown leaf litter is silent underfoot and contributes to the peace.
There are viewing points along the walk, and people with keen eyes will spot trout holding their ground against the strong current of the spring outflow.
It was a revelation to spot native grass Carex virgata in its natural habitat, perching as green tufted islands in the gentler parts of the stream.
As you progress from the redwood forest to native bush, a viewing platform looms from the shade where you can peer into the powerful, dark blue spring vent, lit by glittering coins in the current. If you have a bottle with you, you can take a draught of pristine spring water here, knowing that the last time it saw the light was 70 years ago on the Mamaku Plateau, 20km northwest of Rotorua. The water has travelled through underground aquifers to push up through volcanic rock at the spring, and eventually out to Lake Rotorua and beyond.
Last year, Hamurana Springs was returned to Ngati Rangiwewehi after a Treaty of Waitangi settlement, with the proviso that the public still have access. The iwi has been working closely with DoC and Hamurana Springs Incorporated Society (HSIS) to develop and maintain the site.
An exciting, sustainable future includes riparian planting and a strong focus on water quality, with a potential return to traditional food and customary management practices.
In their feedback to the 2011 Rotorua Draft District Plan, iwi have identified Hamurana for "future eco-tourism activities, as well as cultural, educational and commercial activities (including land-based aquaculture) in keeping with the natural character and amenity of the reserve".
In regular working bees by HSIS volunteers they have cleared the tracks of debris and rubbish, and planted thousands of native species, and established a new walkway in honour of Ynys Fraser, the Society's first patron. They have also established Travellers Trees where you can buy a specimen tree to be planted as a donation to the reserve.
The carpark features a rainwater swale developed by DoC, and is planted with native grasses and sedges. The swale catches and filters stormwater runoff and helps to clean the water before it enters the aquifers leading to Lake Rotorua.
The tribe's vision is aspirational and heavily anchored in sustainability and environmental guardianship (kaitaikitanga), an ethos that is visible at every turn throughout this sacred place.
See also ...
* If, like me, you can't bear to go through Rotorua without checking geothermal activity, a walk behind the museum along the milky edge of Lake Rotorua reveals bubbling geothermal fumeroles. Many NZ scaup (papango) bob like black rubber duckies in the milky coloured water. There are hidden thermal bathing spots for those in the know, such as the concrete bathing pools beside lake Rotoiti, reached by boat.
* A spot I'm keen to visit is Mamaku Blueberries, on the volcanic Mamaku Plateau on the way to or from Auckland. The acidic soil around Rotorua is perfect for growing blueberries, which prefer a soil pH below 5.
* There are beautiful parks, gardens and town centre plantings. Here you can observe which plants best suit acid soil. Rhododendrons covered in magenta blooms are quite the feature opposite Kuirau park on Ranolf St. Kuirau Park is another good spot to see steam vents and bubbling hot pools. Last time we stopped by Rotorua, dramatic dogwood (Cornus spp.) trees were flowering. They are easy to spot because of their large cream-coloured bracts.