High on the north facing slopes above Rotoroa can be found evidence of extensive fern cultivations. These gardens were a source of aruhe or fern-root, one of our staple foods until the introduction of the potato.
The gardens, or tawaha aruhe are believed to have been established around the time of the musket raiders, with the whole lakes region forming a safe haven from which guerrilla operations were launched against the northern iwi occupying coastal areas.
Elsdon Best noted that aruhe from these inland areas was much better than that harvested from the coast. Before it could be eaten, aruhe required a lot of preparation and was often mixed with plant extracts and additives to make both sweet and savoury dishes. Brunner, for example, described a dish made with aruhe and ti, which “you eat with a similar relish to gingerbread.”