New Zealand: The Magic of Rotorua

Written by Harold McNeill on January 31st, 2012. Posted in Travelogue

“He kakano ahau, ruia mai i Ranglatea” (I am a seed, scattered from Raniatea) and so Lynn and I entered “the magical world that was home to the Patu-paikarehe fairy people who lived off the products of the forest and the inanga (whitebait) that thrived in Lake Rotorua” (Fairy Folk of the Ngongotaha Mountain by Mrs. EC Cowan).

It has taken us over fifteen years, but we finally arrived in Rotorua to visit with David and Gill Russell and were made to feel as welcome in the Russell home as at any home in our lives. Over several days, we shared stories and pictures of our families and lives.

David and Gill also compiled a list of attractions to visit while in Rotorua. This city of 68,000, which attracts over 3 million visitors per year, is a wonderland of tectonic and volcanic activity that gives just a tiny insight into the world that existed millions of years ago. The hundreds of ocher stained streams and rocks and the magnificent emerald, green and blue lakes, stretch for hundreds of square kilometers.  Downwind, the strong smell of sulfur wafts through the air. There are no “sinus” blockages in Rotorua.

During our stay we observe dozens of geology students from around the world attracted by this world of deep subterranean geologic activity that reaches to the surface. Lake Rotorua is formed, and the city built, within the crater of a long since dormant volcano where every rock outcropping around the city and in the surrounding area continues to vent steam and boiling water from thousands of fissures in the rock. The tourist literature refers to the volcano as “extinct” but that point, in my mind at least, seems open to debate.

In many places, steam vents erupt to a height of twenty or thirty meters two, three or four times per hour. Bubbling, dancing pools of mud create hundreds of concentric circles that hold your attention not for minutes but for hours as small geysers of mud jump high above the surface competing with each other for attention.

One long dormant (inactive?) volcano, a short drive from the Rotorua, erupted a few years back and, tragically, killed several Maori people who lived in a nearby village. The same eruption also obliterated a classic outcropping of layered rock. While this was considered to be a small eruption, it did markedly change the contour of the horizon for many kilometers. In the slideshow panoramic scenes of Rotorua you can see the “flat topped” mountain on the far horizon.

While you might think all this activity within the bowels of the earth would leave one with an uneasy, vulnerable feeling that is certainly not the case. It is such a serene place you cannot help but feel at one with the intense energy of a more primitive earth.

David and I took a more fatalistic approach, perhaps our age giving us the latitude, and suggested to the girls that we could all become etched in the annals of history if we suddenly disappeared as did the peoples of Pompeii many centuries earlier.  What a story for our children and grandchildren.  One of them might even write a posting for Facebook complete with satellite photos of the event.  Lynn and Gill told us to ‘get a life’” David reminds Gill about a recent eruption that sent rocks flying from a public thermal park to the hospital parking!!!

We were thrilled to be with Gill and David as we cheered on the All Whites National (Soccer Team) as they clawed their way to a berth in the 2010 World Cup. The next day, we also cheered the All Black’s (Rugby Team) as they downed Italy in a high profile match.  In NZ, we are beginning to understand that everything truly is “White and Black”.

As in any tense sporting match, Lynn ended up lying on the floor behind the couch- hand over her eyes, anxiously awaiting the results while David, Gill and I jumped up and down on the chesterfield and chair (good thing the kids couldn’t see us).  It is extremely gratifying to see NZ, a country of just four million people, carve out a berth in the World Cup, a berth that Canada, with 35 million, has yet to grasp.

I am convinced it has much to do with the rugged determination of these people living in an isolated, raw, jagged land where they must become self-reliant or perish. (I hope to write more on my impressions of the sporting successes in NZ and Australia at a later date.)

David and Gill are three-generation Kiwis who have lived in many cities and towns on both the North and South Islands. The places where they have not lived, they have travelled and NZ provides 100’s upon 100’s of scenic areas to visit, all within a day or two from home. In the early 90’s, the Russells took a “foreign posting” and lived for several years in the idyllic, tropical paradise of Western Samoa — oh, even for Kiwis, life does have its little challenges!

During interludes from our many walks and driving tours around the city, Gill somehow found time to prepare repasts that would tickle the palates of top European chefs (or perhaps a certain chef we know in Kamloops), while David tried to teach me the Haka. This testy little pregame chant is performed by the All Blacks and by High Schools and University teams before every match.

The Haka, a traditional Maori chant, performed by warriors prior to engaging in battle.  In past days, this was meant to instill fear in their opponents. In current times, it is performed by sport teams to intimidate opponents. It was with great disappointment to David that my version came off more as an invitation to beat me up rather than to sow a seed of doubt in the opposition. I think David is concerned I may at some point try my chant in public.  Lynn assures him I am not prone to acting silly in public places. (yeah right!)

During our stay, we were delighted to have an opportunity to meet their daughter Kim, her husband, Hywell, and their children, Mathew and Emma, who were visiting from their home in the South Island city of Dunedin. They are a delightful family. Emma and Mathew are filled with that boundless energy of youth and an excitement for life that cannot help but invigorate any adult. Grandma and Grandpa are justifiably proud.

On the final day of our stay David, Gill, Lynn and I pay a visit to Vicki’s memorial at which a Kauri tree has been planted in memory of their beloved daughter.  We had been so fortunate to have shared our home with Vicki as she completed her ‘GAP’ year in Victoria. That ever so brief interlude in our life with that delightful, vibrant and mischievous young woman is a bond we will forever share with David and Gill and the entire Russell family.

Rotorua, NZ


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  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email:

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.