Death of man found in Rotorua natural hot pool prompts safety fears, tributes

By Kelly Makiha of Rotorua Daily Posts. This story appeared on the New Zealand Herald.

Friends say it was not uncommon for Tui Siufanga to end the day with a warm soak in a natural hot pool at Rotorua’s Sulphur Point.

Tui Siufanga died in an area on Hatupatu Drive, Rotorua. Photo / Facebook

His constant companion, a pet dog he adored, was usually not too far away.

Two weeks ago, Siufanga was found dead in the area.

The Rotorua Daily Post understands the man, who has been described as a “quiet bloke” known to sleep rough at times, was found in a hot pool.

In response to Rotorua Daily Post questions, a police media spokesperson would not reveal details about the circumstances of Siufanga’s death other than to say he was found dead in an area on Hatupatu Drive in central Rotorua about 10am on May 11.

The spokesperson said the death was not suspicious and any details would be revealed as part of a coroner’s finding.

Siufanga’s death has sparked concern among those who knew him about the potential dangers of people ignoring warnings and continuing to soak in the natural hot pools at Sulphur Point.

It is the same area where another Rotorua man, James Taikato, was found dead in November 2020.

A coroner ruled Taikato’s death was caused by accidental hydrogen sulphide poisoning, not drowning.

Coroner Louella Dunn recommended in her finding on Taikato’s death, released last year, additional signage should be erected in the area that included the danger of bathing alone and that high levels of hydrogen sulphide inhalation could cause fatigue, dizziness, delirium, nausea, loss of consciousness and death.

She said in her finding hydrogen sulphide was a colourless gas and it might irritate eyes and the respiratory system.

Dunn said it was clear inhaling high quantities could produce rapid unconsciousness and ultimately death.

‘It’s a nice, warm spot’

News of Siufanga’s death has saddened a former rough sleeper and those who work with homeless people in Rotorua. They have paid tribute to Siufanga, saying he was a “loner” who liked to ride his bike and hang out with his dog.

Percy Poharama, who helps feed those in need five nights a week from the Papatuanuku Support Services site on Hinemoa St, said Siufanga often used the same pool as Taikato did because rough sleepers considered it the spot to go.

“But the pool turns and becomes toxic. But they don’t worry, they sit in there and have a few ales. These guys haven’t got much. Going down and having a soak is as good as it gets. It’s a nice, warm spot.”

Poharama said Siufanga was known for always having his dog with him and being on his bike. He said sometimes he would use his dog as a “tow engine” by putting a rope on his handlebars and getting the dog, which similar in breed to an Alsatian or German shepherd, to pull him along.

“Tui was a real quiet bloke. We used to talk a lot in general about his life … He kept to himself. Butter was his favourite thing … He would come in and I would grab him some butter because we know how expensive that is.”

A former “streetie”, who did not want to be named because he was now in housing, said he knew Siufanga because he used to stay nearby at EJ’s Dormitel on Victoria St. He said Siufanga would take his dog everywhere.

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“I invited him back here a few times to drink with me but nah, he always just went back home. I even offered him a sesh [to join him to smoke cannabis] heaps of times but he don’t smoke the green. Anyone would think he did with those big fat natty locks of his. To me he always seemed cool and mellow and just always doing his own thing.”

The former streetie said he understood Siufanga kept getting into trouble because his dog was unregistered and he reluctantly gave his dog to a family member for a period.

“Poor fellow was rolling by himself for a few months until he turned up at the Bottle-O one night with his kuri [dog]. I said ‘oh, chur brother you finally got him back’.”

The former streetie said he was unsure if that meant Siufanga had got the dog registered.

A police spokesman said next of kin had been advised of Siufanga’s death and the dog had been uplifted by Rotorua Animal Control.

The Rotorua Daily Post has attempted to reach Siufanga’s family for comment.

A Rotorua homeless man, who said he did not want his name published, said he knew Siufanga and his death was sad.

“I always saw him around with his dog.”

He said he and others on the streets had been talking about him and they had heard he had died in a hot pool.

EJ’s Dormitel owner Emilyn Dubouzet told the Rotorua Daily Post that Siufanga had lived at her complex as a tenant but she could not remember when and for how long.

She said he had his dog in his room, even though he was not supposed to.

“He could be a handful but he was okay. It’s supposed to be no dogs here. You just navigate with whatever you can and you learn to make the most of the situation.

“I try to give them love and care. That is what they need.”

What the council says

Rotorua Lakes Council community and district development group manager Jean-Paul Gaston said in response to Rotorua Daily Post questions Safe City Guardians regularly patrolled inner city geothermal parks and reserves.

Recent work completed in the Sulphur Point area included new walkways and bridges, as well as additional and replacement fencing built – including in the area where the death occurred, Gaston said.

“The pathway running past this area is fenced on both sides and there is signage warning people to stay on the path and of the specific risks of geothermal features.”

Gaston urged anyone who saw people within fenced areas, or in pools in parks and reserves, to contact the council immediately.

He said if guardians saw people sleeping rough they advised about the dangers associated with active geothermal areas and offered to help connect them to support services.

“People found camping in public parks and reserves that are not designated for this can be trespassed but that’s a last resort. If advised they could be trespassed most leave of their own accord but some will still eventually return.”

Kelly Makiha is a senior journalist who has reported for the Rotorua Daily Post for more than 25 years, covering mainly police, court, human interest and social issues.

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