Eruptions in Rotorua

Phil Campbell

A week of eruptions had the nation gassing for Rotorua this past week.

A blowout adjacent the Whakarewarewa village on the southern reaches of the city precincts was enough.

By the end of the week, citizens learned their rates on average had been approved at an average of 4.8 per cent.

Apart from three councillors who did not approve had their reasons; one, Mark Gould sniffed he felt the rural sector had been unfairly targeted.

But the real news of the week was the blowout.

At a media conference convened by the Rotorua Lakes Council, no one in the media pack – at least those from outside the district to whom steam probably means a heated in-office argument – knew what to call it. Was it a mud pool? A steam event? A hole in the ground?

It was all of these things. We sought a technical term we knew existed, but had forgotten – the closest provided the council’s chief executive Geoff Williams was ‘fumarole’.

Such sub-terranean festerings are the acne of Rotorua live. They elisions can happen anywhere, anytime. Very can be explained.

The authorities were unable to link the Whakarewarewa geyser of mud (and only mud it should be emphasised) with a recent earthquake, nor the current rumblings over at White Island off the Whakatane coast.

Interestingly, Rotorua’s GNS scientist Brad Scott said what happened on White Island over the years had no deleterious effect on mainland Whakatane. In other words, the residue or fallout remained to the island itself – adding, ominously, and the people on it. But not adding those fishing around it.

Shaky reminders of the epithet ‘shaky isles’ occur so often in Rotorua that folk here routinely carry out their daily rosters unperturbed, with a sort of casual insouciance.

Some years ago, scientists addressed local councillors in special presentation.

One of the scientists outlined the Faultline, a sort of S bend which extended from the South Island, through the Wellington province and parked itself in Rotorua.

The line was red (danger, the same scarlet colour found on fish hooks) and its serpentine delineation conveyed an element of menace.

Worse, the map of NZ carried dots – like measle of chicken pox spots – in which tremors occurred every day in New Zealand. Some of these dots were in clusters like hundreds and thousands, others isolated in groupings of five or six like a smallbore shooting target.

Many dozens represented minor tremors, too insignificant to create any terrestrial damage, but the picture on this map of New Zealand looked one sick country.

The scientist who made the delivery then said that in one area of the country off the West Coast a tremor occurred every day.

If this occasioned no great surprise, the scientist’s next sentence did: “This area has had a daily eruption since 1854”, some 165 years ago.

It had not varied and indeed this area was no longer being so closely monitored. The revelation left an impression with then mayor Kevin Winters, who has a science degree.

For a similar if minor explosion this week, the prize must go to councillor Peter Bentley.

Chairing a full meeting of the council which approved the average 4.8 percent rates increase, Mayor Steve Chadwick apologised at overlooking Peter Bentley’s raised hand, and allowed him to speak.

In an understated irony, Bentley said: “Yes, I’m quite a long, long way away”.  

As those viewing online and seated in the public gallery will have observed, only the deputy mayor Dave Donaldson separated Bentley from the mayor.


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