Te Aroha snuggles beneath the moutain bearing the same name on the Waikato side of the Kaimai range which divides the Bay of Plenty from the Waikato. Hot springs emerge from a fault line at the base of the bush-covered mountain. The small rural town surprises me with the number of large fancy Victorian/Edwardian buildings; a legacy from the days when it was a health spa for the rich.
In the late 1870s, the local chief, Mokena Hau, the first white settler, George Lipsey and his wife Ema, Mokena Hau’s daughter, gifted the land that was to become the Domain to the New Zealand government. The culture of ‘Taking the waters’ was fashionable back in Europe, so entrepreneurs took advantage of the natural springs and thus the health spa was born. Gold brought other settlers in, then the rich timber source and flat land attracted more, and so the town grew.
The front entrance of the old Cadman bath house (built 1898) displays the startling floor. It’s now a museum. $5 entry and a DVD of the history introduced me to treatment methods, the quackery of some practitioners and the health fashions of the day. Step outside, and below are the croquet grounds where, from the 1880s for several decades, women in long dresses and be-whiskered men knocked the balls through hoops.
I wandered out of the Domain into the town. I could see over the flat Waikato from the slight rise. The town clock amused me – a different time on two faces.
What I missed was the only hot soda water geyser in the world – the Mokena Hau geyser. Next time.
Cute little cottages, bold splashes of colour as I wandered to the main street for a coffee in an old bank.
As I farewell Te Aroha, I think of its name, which means ‘love’. You can just make out the tower of the television transmitter station mimicking the church spire.
The Legend of Mt Te Aroha
At 952m Mount Te Aroha is the highest point in the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park and is part of an ancient volcanic chain from 24 to 2 million years ago.
Far back in time Mt Te Aroha gained its name in Maori legend. One story tells how the son of Arawa chief, Kahu-Mata-Momoe was on his way home from visiting a kinsman at Kaipara. As was the habit with this explorer, he ascended to the highest point possible along the way. As he stood on top of the mountain, he was overjoyed to see the familiar landmarks of his tribal home he decided to name it “Aroha ki tai – This shall be called the Mountain of Aroha.
Herein shall forever repose the great love of Kahu-Mata-Momoe”. The legend continues that in time the spirit of Kahu-Mata-Momoe caused a stream of crystal water to flow from the heart of the mountain. Where the stream emerged there appeared hot springs with healing qualities. A clear pool in the cleft of a rock was known as the “Mirror of Te Mamoe” and became a wishing well for newly married couples.