Rotorua is situated in the Rotorua basin on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua. The town itself is on comparatively flat land which rises gently to the south and west to surrounding hills. Rotorua is the terminus of a railway line from Frankton. By road it lies 67 miles south-east of Hamilton (76 miles by rail), 54 miles south of Tauranga, and 53 miles north of Taupo. The port of Tauranga at Mount Maunganui (50 miles north by road) is the nearest seaport. Limited air services are available from the Rotorua airfield, but there are plans for the construction of a new airport at Rotokawa, 2 miles east. In the district there are many landing strips for aerial-topdressing aircraft.
The two main rural activities of the district are sheep and cattle farming and logging and sawmilling. There is also a little dairy farming on the fertile pockets of land. Much of the farming is a post-war development, for until then the land was regarded as waste. But the problem of bush sickness was solved by the use of trace elements and, with modern machinery for clearing the scrub and ploughing, land development is proceeding on a large scale. Since 1947 the Lands and Survey Department has been preparing land for the settlement of ex-servicemen, and considerable development on blocks of Crown land has been carried out by the Department of Maori Affairs for the settlement of Maori farmers. Logging and sawmilling are also major industries in the area, of recent development. As a result of hand planting before and during the depression of the thirties, there are 1,250,000 acres of exotic and indigenous forests in the district, mainly Pinus radiata (q.v.). In 1939 the New Zealand Forest Service commenced milling operations at Waipa, 2 miles south of Rotorua, and in 1954 the New Zealand Forest Products paper-pulp mill was opened at Kinleith, 34 miles from Rotorua. The following year the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mills began production at Kawerau, 30 miles east. There are large timber mills at Kinleith, Tokoroa, Pinedale, and Waipa (4 miles south of the city). This region produces more than half of the Dominion's exotic timber, more than three-quarters of its pulp and paper, and much of its native softwoods.
Rotorua is the commercial centre for the area stretching from Taupo in the south, Tokoroa and Kinleith in the west, and Whakatane in the east. It is also the centre of the tourist industry in the North Island, being situated in the heart of the thermal and lake region. Because it is capable of accommodating and entertaining big crowds, the city is favoured as a conference centre. Secondary industries include the manufacture of wire rope, small engineering workshops, a factory manufacturing disinfectants, insecticides, polishes, etc., sawmilling, an aerated-water factory, and the manufacture of concrete and building materials. Butter is manufactured at Ngongotaha (5 miles north).
The country around Lake Rotorua was settled originally by descendants of the Maoris who came to New Zealand in the Arawa canoe in A.D. 1350. Their principal settlements were at Ohinemutu and Whakarewarewa. In 1823 the lands of the Arawa people were invaded by the Ngapuhi chief, Hongi Hika, but he was obliged to withdraw. In 1828 Philip Tapsell established himself at Maketu (37 miles north) as a trader, flax being exchanged for firearms. In 1833 Scott, a trader at Tauranga, opened a branch station at Mokoia Island, which closed down after the Maoris forced it to be shifted to the mainland. A missionary, Chapman, erected a mission station in 1835 on the high point which juts out into Lake Rotorua at Koutu. The next 10 years saw intermittent warfare between the Arawa and the powerful Waikato tribes after a local chief had murdered one of the Waikato chiefs. In 1867 the Waikato tribes again attacked the Maoris around Rotorua, to take punitive measures for the Arawa's part in preventing the passage of East Coast reinforcements for the Maori “King” through their territory. With the help of government troops, the Arawa finally drove out the Hauhaus.
Prior to 1870 Rotorua was still an almost unknown Maori territory and it was not until 1882 that there was any movement toward settlement in the present township. The site of the township appears to have been selected because it was close to a large number of boiling springs and was the centre from which the natural wonders and scenic beauties of the lake district could be most easily reached. It was also the junction of the early lines of communication in the district. The original township contained 600 acres of which 125 acres were offered for European settlement under the Thermal Springs District Act of 1881. The visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1870 had a great effect on tourist trade and at the beginning of the eighties visitors were given a chance to “take the waters”. This, together with the availability of town sections, caused the gradual drift of population from Ohinemutu. As a result of the Tarawera eruption in 1886, settlement was retarded for some years, but confidence gradually returned and Rotorua began to progress. The railway opened at the end of 1894, and by 1897 the population was 500. In 1883 Rotorua was constituted a special town district under the Thermal Springs Act. It became a borough in 1922 and a city in 1962. Rotorua may mean “two lakes”, “lake of the pit”, or “crater lake”.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 14,693; 1956 census, 19,004; 1961 census, 25,068.
by Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.