Morere Hot Springs: The History
Morere Hot Springs thermal area with its rainforest reserve is steeped in history from the time of the Maori through to the European colonising years and later as New Zealand embraced the motor car and began to explore and travel the land.
Enjoying the natural hot water pools at Morere has been a tradition since the 1890s.
In pre-European times the Rakai Paaka, a hapu (family-based sub group) of the Ngati Kahungunu tribe, used the hot springs at Morere to bath in. In the early colonial period around 1895 the Lands and Survey Department gazetted the Nuhaka Thermal Springs Reserve under the Land Act of 1892. Renamed the Morere Springs Scenic Reserve, it has been administered by the Department of Conservation since 1987. In the late 1880s most of the bush in the surrounding region area was felled and burnt to make way for pastoral farming but fortunately the settlers spared the few acres of bush around the hot springs. In the early 1890s the first totara-slab bath house was built by the main thermal outlet and in 1897 a hotel opened for business nearby. As the use of private motor cars became established from the 1950s onwards there emerged a policy to establish scenic reserves along New Zealand's new network of highways where motorists could stop to rest on long journeys. These reserves were most-often created at places of scenic or historic interest. Morere Springs Scenic Reserve, on State Highway 2 between Wairoa and Gisborne, is a well-known example.
The first hotel was followed by a larger two-storied hotel in 1913 which developed into a resort or spa. During the resort’s heyday of the 1920s and 30s the hotel offered 50 beds. It became a popular tavern in the 1970s and was destroyed by fire in 1992. The first permanent caretaker of the hot springs was Ned Kennedy, appointed in 1923, who lived with his wife in a tent for two years until a cottage was built.
Prior to the 1930s, when hot water was piped down the Mangakawa Valley to a series of pools closer to the road, bath houses were built over the hot water outlets along the Mangakawa Stream. Known as Nos. 1, 2 and 3 bathhouses each one became hotter as bathers trekked up the valley. The highest, No.3, was destroyed by a landslide in 1962 and No.2 was replaced in 1982 by what are now called the Nikau Pools.
For many years the Morere Hot Springs Scenic Reserve was administered by the Tourism and Publicity Department before being taken over by the Lands and Survey Department in 1971 and subsequently by the Department of Conservation. Today the Department of Conservation administers the reserve while the hot springs are leased to a private concessionaire. The concessionaire also provides cottage, cabin and lodge accommodation.
DELIGHTFUL EAST COAST HOLIDAY RESORT
The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 7 (October 2, 1939)
By W. A. Froggatt
Nestling in a picturesque valley, on the East Coast highway between Napier and Gisborne, is the charming little hamlet of Morere Springs. It is surrounded by mountainous country which, in the immediate vicinity, is covered with some of the finest native bush in New Zealand. This scenic reserve with its hot mineral spas, is under Government control and is the Mecca of hundreds of people during holiday periods. Campers are catered for in a well-equipped camping ground situated on the bank of a small river flowing through the valley.
Entering the reserve through a modern arched gateway one is attracted by the beautifully-kept gardens and lawns that surround the full-sized open air mineral bath and caretaker’s residence. Here, too, are to be found fish ponds, rockeries and rustic bridges. Dotted here and there are small archways and alcoves which have been constructed from the native manuka tree. About a hundred yards from the main entrance one enters the portals of Nature’s own domain and follows a well-defined path which will ultimately lead one into the very heart of this scenic reserve. The path now follows the course of a mountain stream whose cool, clear waters, originating high up in the bush, flow over a rocky bed, through fern-lined banks, on its way to join a tributary of the Nuhaka river.
Continuing along the path one reaches No. 1 and No. 2 private bath-houses. These bath-houses are spaced at a distance of about 150 yards, and are used principally by invalids. Passing No. 2 bath-house a little more altitude is gained and, crossing the stream by a suspension bridge, one eventually reaches No. 3 bath-house, which, incidentally, is a public bath and about one-third the size of the usual swimming bath. This bath is the most popular during the winter months, as it is quite near the source of the mineral springs and, consequently, the waters are much warmer than those of the other baths. The predominating minerals in these spas include large quantities of calcium and sodium chloride. There is also sufficient free iodine to give them a pungent smell, and colour them a pale brown. In the stream below No. 3 bath-house are several deep pools which prove popular when the weather is warm. These pools are formed by small waterfalls as the stream finds its way to lower levels.
Leaving this bath the climb becomes slightly steeper; this, however, does not distract one’s attention from the surrounding beauty. After about ten minutes’ more climbing the end of the walk is reached. Here, one gazes into a deep, bush-lined chasm, over the brink of which plunges a small though picturesque waterfall. This is a beautiful sight and, as one rests awhile, it is with a feeling of satisfaction that there has been ample reward for the walk. It is not easy to leave this lovely scene and wend the way back to No. 3 bath-house, where one may bathe in the invigorating mineral waters before continuing explorations further. Leaving the bathhouse one turns off the path at a place marked with the sign, “To the Palm Grove.” Actually this track leads through several palm groves and into the very heart of the bush. The track continues up hill and down dale for a couple of miles, eventually circling round to join up with the main path near the No.1 bath-house.
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