Orakei Korako is situated on the Waikato River at Lake Ohakuri, which is a Hydro-Electric power plant. The name Orakei Korako can be interpreted as “Place of Adorning”. Maori women used the pool to bath and beautify themselves for ceremonies.
The Silica Terraces that form the base of Orakei-Korako Geyserland and Thermal Park are believed to be the largest of its kind since the destruction of the famous Pink and White Terraces in 1886 on the edge of Lake Rotomahana beneath Mount Tarawera.
At present, there are up to 23 active natural geysers that play freely throughout the area. One geothermal consultant stated that Orakei Korako has the greatest number of active geysers of any geothermal field in New Zealand, with the most variable and most interesting changes.
There is a vast number of boiling hot springs to view at Orakei Korako as well as mud pools and there are extensive bush walks to enjoy through areas of native flora and fauna.
The highlight for many visitors on the walk through the valley is the thermal Ruatapu Cave (sacred hole). The cave extends 120 ft down to a hot pool at the bottom named “Waiwhakaata”, which means „pool of mirrors“.
From earliest times, the Waikato Valley near Orakei Korako was occupied by Maori of the Ngati Tahu sub-tribe Tuwharetoa.
By the early 1800’s, the Maori population had congregated at Orakei Korako, attracted by the hot springs.
“O” is the place of “rakei” adornment. “Korako” meaning white, describing the glittering (sinter) flat.
A diary entry for the 11 March 1850 recorded that the Maoris lived in this spot “to spare their woman the trouble of procuring wood for fuel. They seldom light a fire; everything is cooked in the springs.”
The exact date that the Ngati Tahu people vacated Orakei Korako to settle elsewhere is not recorded, but it is likely that they left soon after the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.
By the turn of the century, all but two families had moved from Orakei Korako.
The earliest known route from Rotorua to Taupo for early European travellers passed right through Orakei Korako.
The Maori people provided a dug out canoe for the river crossings. In the early 1900’s the geothermal area was already established as a visitor attraction.
A dug-out was used until the 1930’s to transfer visitors across the then swift Waikato River. Afterwards, a wire strop and pulley system was placed across the river to make the crossing easier.
In April 1937, a Rotorua company called Orakei Korako Ltd obtained a 21 year lease with the right of renewal for another 21 years.
The road was improved for motor traffic and a punt was installed to transport visitors across the river.
Orakei Korako was officially opened as a tourist resort on 15 December 1937.
Source: Orakei-Korako Cave and Thermal Park