Following in the footsteps of Trollope, I went to Rotorua. Here he described the bathing as it was in 1872, concluding with plans for a hotel and spa resort. This indeed came to pass but tragically, in June 1886, the nearby Tarawera volcano erupted engulfing the hotel and spa complex, killing more than 150 people and burying forever the beautiful pink and white terraces Trollope described. The photo shows one of the excavated buildings encased in some 4ft of the molten lava and ash that fell upon it during the eruption.
“The glory of Roto Mahana is in the terraces. There are the white terraces on the side on which we had slept, and the pink terraces across the lake. I will endeavour in describing these to avoid any word that may seem to savour of science, — being altogether ignorant in such matters, — and will endeavour simply to say what I saw and felt. These terraces are formed of a soft friable stone, which is deposited by the waters streaming down from the hot pools above. The white terraces are in form the finer of the two. They are about three hundred feet in width, and rise nearly two hundred in height from the lake. As you ascend from the bottom you step along a raised fretwork of stone, as fine as chased silver. Among this the water is flowing, so that dry feet are out of the question, but the fretwork, if the feet be kept on it, assists the walker, as the water, though it runs over it, of course runs deeper through it. As you rise higher and higher, the water, which at the bottom is hardly more than tepid, becomes warmer and warmer. And then on one terrace after another there are large shell-like alabaster baths, holding water from three to four feet deep, — of different temperatures as the bather may desire them. Of course the basins are not alabaster, — but are made of the deposit of the waters, which is, I believe, silica; — but they are as smooth as alabaster, only softer. And on the outside rims, where the water has run, dripping over, century after century, nature has carved for herself wonderful hanging ornaments and exquisite cornices, with that prolific hand which never stints itself in space because of expense, and devotes its endless labour to front and rear with equal persistency. On the top terrace is the boiling lake from whence the others are filled.
We had swum in Roto Mahana early in the morning, and did not bathe at the white terraces, having been specially recommended to reserve “ourselves for those on the other side. So we crossed the lake to the pink terraces. In form, as I have said before, the white terraces are the finer. They are larger, and higher, and the spaces between the pools are more exquisitely worked, — and to my eye the colour was preferable. Both are in truth pink. Those which have the name of being so are brighter, and are salmon-coloured. They are formed after the same fashion, and the baths are constructed, — of course by nature, — in the same way. But those which we last visited were, I was told, more delicious to the bather. I can, indeed, imagine nothing more so. The bather undresses on a piece of dry rock a few yards distant, and is in his bath in half a minute without the chance of hurting his feet, — for it is one of the properties of the stone flooring which has here been formed that it does not hurt. In the bath, when you strike your chest against it, it is soft to the touch, — you press yourself against it and it is smooth, — you lie about upon it and, though it is firm, it gives to you. You plunge against the sides, driving the water over with your body, but you do not bruise yourself. You go from one bath to another, trying the warmth of each. The water trickles from the one above to the one below, coming from the vast boiling pool at the top, and the lower therefore are less hot than the higher. The baths are shell-like in shape, — like vast open shells, the walls of which are concave and the lips of which ornamented in a thousand forms. Four or five may sport in one of them, each without feeling the presence of the other. I have never heard of other bathing like this in the world. And from the pink terraces, as you lie in the water, you look down upon the lake which is close beneath you, and over upon the green broken hills which come down upon the lake. The scene here, from the pink terraces, is by far the lovelier, though the white terraces themselves are grander in their forms. It is a spot for intense sensual enjoyment, and there comes perhaps some addition to the feeling from the roughness you have encountered in reaching it; — a delight in dallying with it, from the roughness which you must encounter in leaving it. The time probably will soon come in which there will be a sprightly hotel at Roto Mahana, with a table d’hôte, and boats at so much an hour, and regular seasons for bathing. As I lay there, I framed the programme of such a hotel in my mind, — and I did so, fixing the appropriate spot as I squatted in the water, and calculating how much it would cost and what return it would give.”
Excerpt From: Trollope, Anthony. “Delphi Complete Works of Anthony Trollope.” Delphi Classics, 2012-01-22. iBooks.
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