Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rotorua's Sacred Gulls

In 1823, the northern Ngapuhi tribe, led by Hongi Hika, attacked Rotorua's Te Arawa people on Mokoia Island in the middle of Lake Rotorua. Te Arawa were warned of the pending attack by the disturbed flight and squawking of Nga Tarapunga - the red-billed gull - and were prepared for the enemy as a result. Since then, the gulls have been tapu (sacred) to the people of Te Arawa.

Both red- and black-billed gulls breed in their thousands at Te Arikiroa (Sulphur Bay) on the edge of the lake (near the Polynesian Spa) and the red-bills also roost here outside breeding season. The little sandy beach at Te Arikiroa was also the scene of an inter-tribal battle centuries ago, when the people of Ngati Tangaroa-mihi and Ngati Tama (Tama-ihu-toroa) clashed. The dead and dying were said to be so thickly strewn about that they resembled inanga (whitebait) cast on the shore. Things are much quieter today and it's a popular bird-watching spot. You'll also frequently find photographers at work early in the morning, trying to capture the mood as morning mists and geothermal steam mix over the water. There's a msyterious beauty about the place then.

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