The Waituhi Valley and Ruatane will not be found on any real-life map. They are my own inventions, though their descriptions are coloured by places that were familiar to me in childhood.
But the Bay of Plenty is a real place, named by Captain Cook in 1769 for the abundance of its natural resources.
Ruatane is based on the little town of Opotiki, where I grew up. In the map above, Opotiki is on the coast close to the bay’s most southerly point.
I lived close to the wharves, which in earlier times were bustling with coastal steamers and sailing ships. By the time I lived in Opotiki, the coastal steamers were a distant memory and the wharves were a quiet place, used mainly by children who would dangle fishing lines over the edge.
The climate is mild there. It never snows, but in winter it’s frosty enough to freeze puddles. There’s a useful amount of rain for crop growing, and summers are warm rather than fierce. It’s a green and pleasant land. The surviving native forests in the region are conifers rather than the beech forests found further south in New Zealand.
This is a geologically active part of our shaky islands. Earthquakes are common, though ones large enough to cause serious damage are rare. You learn not to put fragile items close to the edge of shelves. The highly active volcano White Island/Whakaari lies about 50 kilometres north of Opotiki, and many of the mountains on the mainland are volcanic in origin.
Photos and more information about Opotiki in this blog post.
Places named in the text
White Island is on the map, almost due north of Opotiki and in the beginning of Sentence of Marriage it catches Amy’s eye:
The wide sweep of the Bay of Plenty stretched to the edge of Amy’s sight, and straight in front of her ocean met sky all along the horizon,
broken only by White Island with its constant puff of smoke.
Tarawera is south-west of Rotorua. In 1886 Mount Tarawera erupted. The eruption was catastrophic in the immediate area, but was felt (and heard) over a much wider area. Ash was deposited over much of the Bay of Plenty, as well as further afield.
In Mud and Gold, a young woman goes into labour on the night of the eruption, with the ash and the earthquakes making it impossible for her husband to fetch help.
Fear so intense that it left a bitter, metallic taste on his tongue sent a shudder through Frank, so strong that for a moment he thought it was another quake.
What was going on out there? Why was the earth being convulsed while ash fell from the sky?
More on Tarawera, and a longer extract from this section of Mud and Gold, in this blog post.
Tauranga is near the western edge of the map. It appears in the books as a place where people tranship on their way to and from Auckland. Waihi, also mentioned in the books, is just to the west of Tauranga. There’s a description of the mining operation at Waihi in my blog.
Rotorua, with its lakes and active thermal areas, was a popular place for honeymoon tours. In Settling the Account, I refer to a couple going there on honeymoon, and in After the Roses it’s the scene of a family holiday.