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The Rotorua geothermal resource is important because of a number of values

Geothermal Resource Under Threat

In recent years it has become obvious that the geothermal resource is unable to meet the increasing demands being placed on it by private and commercial bores.  These over-demands are having adverse effects particularly on the geothermal surface features and the potentials of the field reservoir itself.

Scientific assessment has verified that the hot geothermal water provided by the Rotorua field is limited and controls on allocation are necessary to sustain the field aquifer water canal.  New developments are constantly demanding to alter existing geothermal features or add to the list of bore users. 

Existing developments request to make 'improvements' which involve the altering and destruction of geothermal surface features.  Activities, which have been carried out for many years, are now being recognised as damaging. For example, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has extracted around 15m3 mud from the boiling mud pool known as Tianakore located within the Arikikapakapa golf course every ten years. The mud, which except for being heated is identical to mud found elsewhere in the region, is used in their balneological treatment practices. However, the extraction process damages the mud cones and the geothermal vegetation and reduces the mud in the pool with each extraction. The hospital has been granted one final extraction permit with some very strict conditions.

Protecting the Rotorua Geothermal Resource

As a result of the Resource Management Act (RMA) in 1991 Regional Councils became responsible for the management of geothermal resources.  Bay of Plenty Regional Council developed a special purpose regional plan in response to the threat of damage to the geothermal field and outstanding natural features in Rotorua.

Biological and Ecological Value

The Rotorua geothermal resource is home to unique plants and organisms which live in and around the geothermal surface features.
Any evolved creature adds another diverse life form to environment and to the genetic pool of nature.  Diverse life forms and their original genetic material offer humankind the potential to better understand natural processes and apply these to improved and new commercial opportunities. For example, bacteria which can thrive at extremes of temperatures and live in chemical mixtures that would be toxic to other life forms have been assessed for use in industrial processes.
The unique environment around geothermal surface features has provided microclimates and microcosms in which unique plant and fauna evolve and interact in ways that are often unique.  Apart from genetic values there are unique ecological dynamics relating to species interactions that add to the diversity of nature and provide unique material and information from which to learn.

Historic and Heritage Value

The geothermal resource has been used by Te Arawa for over 500 years.

The therapeutic values of the waters were well known to the Maori before the first Europeans arrived in the country.

Visitors from around the world and New Zealand have been visiting the area to witness the thermal wonderland or 'take the waters' for centuries now.

Two of the more important features remaining today which form an integral; part of the national heritage of New Zealand include:

  • The Maori communities of Whakarewarewa and Ohinemutu;
  • The Victorian setting of Government Gardens, the Bathhouse and the spa known as the Polynesian Spa.

Demographic Value

'Taking the waters' has given significant relief for people suffering from ailments such arthritis, particularly senior citizens. As a result a large number of older people have moved to reside in Rotorua to take advantage of the perceived balneological benefits. The demographic statistics from the 1991 census suggest that the attraction of geothermal therapeutic facilities, amongst other factors has led to a higher than average number of Rotorua citizens being in the sixty plus age group.

Scientific Value

The systems that form and power the natural features in the Rotorua geothermal resource have attracted significant scientific research over the years.  Research on the Rotorua field has furthered the evolution of geothermal systems theories and led to the development of a sophisticated field model. Since 1991 when Environment Bay of Plenty became responsible for monitoring the geothermal field the Council has spent:

  • $970,000 on monitoring the Rotorua geothermal field;
  • $75,000 on forming geothermal models;

In total $3.9 million has been spent on monitoring the Rotorua geothermal field since 1982. The Geological Society of New Zealand (GSNZ) have identified the entire Rotorua geothermal field as being of international significance. The GSNZ claim that the field is currently at risk due to exploitation of the geothermal resource and other influences such as ongoing volcanism. Whakarewarewa is believed to be one of only two major geyser fields in the world that exist in their natural state which renders it of particular value.

Other individual features in the Rotorua geothermal field have also been registered as being of international significance including:

  • Pohutu Kereru 
  • Prince of Wales Feathers 
  • Te Horu Geyser 
  • Waikorohihi Geyser 
  • Mahanga Geyser  
  • Roto-a-Tamaheke

Individual features which have been registered as being of national scientific, scenic or educational importance include:

  • Korotiotio
  • Kuirau Lake
  • Ngamokoaiakoko
  • Ngapuna Spring
  • Ngarearatuatara
  • The Ororea group of springs
  • Papakura 'Geyser' 
  • Parekohoru
  • Puapua
  • Whangapipiro Spring
  • Waikite Geyser

Features of regional scientific, scenic or educational value include:

  • Government Gardens
  • The Ohinemutu-Kuirau Spring System
  • Wairoa (non-active) Geyser.

The Rotorua geothermal resource forms a major part of the economic structure of Rotorua City and beyond.  The main economic components include:

  • Direct tourist related ventures - where tourists can look at geothermal features and sit in geothermal mineral pools;
  • Indirect links - accommodation, restaurant and souvenir businesses, etc provide jobs and flow-on economies transferring money through the local economy;
  • Energy use - both industry and residential homes utilise the geothermal energy to save on electricity costs;
  • Therapeutic potential - mineral fluids and geothermal heat have been valued as medicinal remedies for centuries in cultures around the world.

Tourism and recreation value

Rotorua is one of the key tourist attraction areas in New Zealand.  Tourism has been one of the major economic bases in Rotorua from the 1800s until the present day. 

As well as the geothermal features the Rotorua lakes, Maori culture, fishing, farm and wildlife exhibits and outdoor pursuits all added to the areas attraction to tourists.  In 1989/90 there were a total of 1.67 million visitor nights spent in the Rotorua district, 56% were New Zealand visitors and 44% were overseas tourists. 

In 1991 360,000 people visited Whakarewarewa and 600,000 in the 1997/98 year.  In the 1997/98 year tourism in Rotorua returned around $249 million directly and $200 million indirectly to the Rotorua economy. 

Approximately one in five of Rotorua's population is involved in the tourism industry, compared to about one in 10 in New Zealand generally.  The tourism industry provides up to 4,000 jobs in Rotorua although many are seasonal.  In the last five years around 1,000 new tourism related jobs have been created.  The amenity and recreational values of geothermal resources, particularly the use of geothermal baths, are of significant value to the population of Rotorua.

Utility value

In 1993 there were 503 users on the Rotorua field that had authorised geothermal bores or were licensed for access to geothermal resource.  Many people, particularly those who live on the Whakarewarewa Reserve, have used the geothermal resource for cooking, heating and bathing for many generations. 

Over the years, the use of the geothermal resource would have saved the users many thousands of dollars each year. These savings would be spent elsewhere in the local economy. In the past properties in Rotorua which were 'on the geothermal' were considered to be worth around $30,000 more than homes which relied on conventional heating, however, nowadays the premium is only around $5,000. 

Local significance value

The people of Rotorua live intimately with the presence of the geothermal field and well know the assets and liabilities that it entails.  The assets include:

  • The economic value such as attractions for the tourists which form a large sector of the local economy;
  • And unique opportunities for enterprise.

Regional, national and international significance value

Having one of New Zealand's main attractions within the Bay of Plenty adds to the destination desirability of the region for both domestic and international visitors.

Rotorua enjoys the status of having the highest number of overseas visitors each year with Whakarewarewa being the most visited tourist attraction in New Zealand.  The Rotorua geothermal field and its features are a national treasure and require protection in the national interest. Geyser flat, which includes Pohutu, and Prince of Wales Feathers Geysers are considered as 'outstanding natural features'.

The geothermal surface features and unique ecosystems render the Rotorua geothermal resource of high international significance in terms of scientific and conservation values.

The Rotorua resource has been studied intensely by international experts and is providing the basis for the evolution of many geothermal models and volcanic and geological theories.  The fact that the Rotorua geothermal attractions are visited by many thousands of overseas visitors every year attests to the value to the international public.