On the grand old bandstand of Government Gardens in Rotorua, homeless people are waking up, their possessions piled a metre away on the porch of what used to be a very fashionable tea pavilion.
The site is important to Maori - many battles were fought here, our tour guide Gay Kingi tells us, not mentioning the descendants of those warriors stirring in the first rays after a frosty night.
Everything about the Elizabethan Tudor gardens is ordered and precise, the footprint of men who wanted to turn everything into the image of their mother England.
But the stories that linger are wild and chaotic, like the bubbling geothermal springs bordering all this symmetry.
One of these is named after a prostitute, sometimes documented as Rachel. Banished from England, she continued in her old line of business and started a new, profitable one, bottling the alkaline water and selling it with a promise of youthful complexions.
Across the road at the Princes Gate Hotel, built in 1897, lives the spirit of another scandalous wench, appearing at night only in one room, and only to men travelling solo, flying about and flirting with them in the most outrageous manner.
But the most famous woman along this walk must be Hinemoa, who inspired our most famous love song, Pokarekare Ana (Destination Rotorua Marketing has just released a very rousing version for New Zealand Music Month - listen to it at www.rotoruanz.com/pokarekareana)
Now there was a woman who knew what she wanted.
Not content sitting on the banks of Lake Rotorua listening to Tutanekai, the man her parents didn't want her to be with, the determined Hinemoa followed his music and swam out to him on Mokoia Island. If indeed they did live happily ever after, as the story goes, some of the children playing in the lakeside backyards of Ohinemutu Village of a Sunday must be their descendants.
The time-worn houses here are handed down from parent to child, never leaving the Ngati Whakaue tribe.
Having a geyser unexpectedly rise up below your house isn't great for its foundations, but the geothermal activity makes up for it in other ways.
Gay married a man from around here. A young Southland woman at the time, she was shocked when he first brought her home and everyone stripped off and got into the backyard hot pool.
Now she thinks it's a wonderful way to unwind and chew the fat the end of the day.
"Everyone here has great skin."
She points out a vent over over boiling water - people bring their pots down here to cook dinner.
Now retired, Gay started Kia Ora Guided City Walks with a friend because it's fun. It must keep her fit - she makes her way up Pukeroa Hill overlooking the village as if she was still that Southland girl. She donates all the money from the tours to the marae and church of this lakeside community.
On a window in St Faith's Anglican Church there's a picture of Jesus in a feathered cloak - from the pew where we sit it looks like he's walking on the lake. Alongside stained glass windows live numerous Maori carvings - the first bishop wasn't too concerned about demi-gods, as long as Christ was the main one.
Maori and European history weaves together everywhere, but it's the geothermal activity that determined what direction that history took in the 20th century and beyond.
Marinating in that hot water at night, we overlook Lake Rotorua with a sense of awe.
We're in the deluxe area at the Polynesian Spa, and I mean deluxe. The bathrooms are heated. The towels are free. Even the lounge chairs are heated by the geothermal water - a wonderful way to ease your way out of the pool when the air is so chilly it hurts your bones.
Two companions in our pool speak te reo, the slow rhythm of it as soothing, as at home here as the warm water.
Across the pool from us, two women speak in the more staccato sounds of an Asian language I don't recognise, their beautiful cheekbones just visible above the water and, beyond them, the steam and vastness of Lake Rotorua.
We ease our muscles, unaccustomed as they were to the mountain bike ride we'd had earlier that evening through Whakarewarewa Forest.
There is an otherwordly beauty about a forest at night - the lights on our helmets guiding our way along mountain bike trails, ruru calling out to each other, a white mouse scampering up a tree, a possum peering down at us from one and the magical beauty of silver ferns, luminous in the dark.
We slept well that night, in a hotel with perfect pillows and a perfectly soft bed.
I was raised by a woman who believes that you should always have money in an emergency fund in case you need a night in a hotel, for the sheer luxury of it, which is probably why staying at the Millenium Hotel was one of the highlights of my trip.
I recommend one of the lakefront rooms, where you can enjoy that atmospheric beauty of steam rising from the lake that you can never quite capture from a photo.
Danielle and her travelling companion's trip was courtesy of Destination Rotorua Marketing and the vendors involved.
WHERE TO EAT
The Pig & Whistle is a Rotorua institution. An old police station converted into a pub, it serves hearty food in enormous portions. If you're ravenous, I recommend the Twice Cooked Kentucky Bourbon Pork Belly.
If you're looking for a good breakfast, The Third Place Cafe does a great one and it's got one of the best views in town, so book a seat by the window and enjoy Lake Rotorua in all its glory. I recommend the Lite Breaky, which comes with fresh fruit and the best kransky I've had in a long time. The only thing we paid for on the trip was coffee and melting moments at the Princes Hotel, in search of stories about the ghost who's supposed to haunt unsuspecting gentleman. It was the best coffee we had in Rotorua.
- Waikato Times
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