The original female tourist guides have captured the hearts of visitors with their grace, intelligence and warm hospitality. One guide, Sophia Hinerangi-Gray, also known as Guide Sophia, has become Rotorua’s most famous woman and has earned a reputation not only as a senior guide to the Pink and White Terraces, but also as a as an educated philosopher and trusted friend of thousands of tourists. She was a role model in her community and encouraged local women to also become financially independent through their work as guides.
“I believe Sophia and all of our tribal guides, who were all women, must be admired,” said Karen Walmsley, chief guide at Totally Tarawera, a Tūhourangi family business in the greater Rotorua area. Guide Sophia was not only his role model, but his kuia (ancestral grandmother). “These wonderful Maori women managed their whanau (family), work and tribal engagements with grace and were known for their organizational and entrepreneurial skills, tenacity and for lovingly welcoming people from many different cultures around the world. “
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David Blackmore, managing director of ecotourism provider Waimangu Volcanic Valley, which covers the area where the Pink and White Terraces were located, agrees: “The early tour guides were innovative, revolutionary, hospitable, enterprising and hardworking. in the Tarawera / Rotorua area were the first New Zealand tourists, so they really led the way. ”
The Guides had a strong spiritual connection to the land and a deep desire to care for it. Blackmore’s Te Awara team of local guides still uphold three values that he said were very apparent in the early tourism efforts of guides such as Sophia. These are manaakitanga (welcoming, sharing precious moments together), whanaungatanga (respect for others and openness) and kaitiakitanga (take care of this special place in the world).
“Although it was a natural occurrence and referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, this is not how our people saw it – we knew nothing about other countries at the time and our concerns. were to take care of the earth, ”Walmsley said.
However, openness to invite others and the responsibility to care for the earth were sometimes at odds. In 1886, during a guided tour of the Terraces, the guide Sophia witnessed a terrible premonition of an imminent tragedy when she saw the water level of the lake drop sharply and then rise again. Historical records report her hearing a “strange moan” shortly thereafter.