The Mt Tarawera eruption that destroyed New Zealands greatest tourism attraction.
Mt Tarawera lies in the middle of a volcanic belt which stretches 150 miles from White Island off the coast of the Bay of Plenty to Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe in the centre of the North Island.
The Maori called its three peaks Wahanga (bursting open), Ruawahia (the split cave or hole) and Tarawera (burnt cliffs or peaks); names which could indicate that the first Polynesian settlers of the Rotorua area arrived before the eruption which blew out the western side of the mountain in about AD. 1150.
If this was so, then the memory had faded by the time the Pakeha came to New Zealand. Neither the Europeans nor the Maoris who lived in the shadow of its forbidding bulk suspected that this great mountain was a dormant volcano.
At the foot of Mt Tarawera were two lakes: Tarawera, and Rotomahana with its Pink and White Terraces, already famous by the 1870s. These Terraces had been built up over many centuries by geysers at their summits.
The White Terrace, 800 feet wide and 100 feet high, consisted of seven and a half acres of natural basins filled with clear blue water. On the other side of Rotomahana was the delicately coloured Pink Terrace, five and a half acres of flat platforms embellished with stalactites in many cases large enough to shelter a child.
Lieutenant Herbert Mead described the Terraces as "acres and acres of water terraces, such as might belong to some giant's palace in Fairyland; every ray of the sinking sun caught and broken into a thousand prismatic hues by the countless crystals that hung like lustres round the margins of the successive basins...."
By the 1880s the Round Trip to the Terraces was an essential part of any tour of the Rotorua region. Tourists would travel by coach from Ohinemutu on the shores of Lake Rotorua to Te Wairoa on Lake Tarawera, where they would spend the night at McRae's Rotomahana Hotel or Humphreys's and Minnett's Terrace Hotel.
In the morning they would travel by whaleboat to Te Ariki at the southern end of Lake Tarawera, walk across to Rotomahana and a canoe which would take them to the Terraces.
In 1886 the Government commissioned a surveyor, J. C. Blyth, to find a site for a hotel on Rotomahana, and on June 4 1886 Humphreys applied for a licence to erect a hotel at the Terraces.
A Fateful Omen:On June 1 1886 a party of tourists had experienced a small tidal wave as they embarked at Te Wairoa. The Maori crew set off for Te Ariki with reluctance, then, just off Kariri Point, a large canoe appeared and drew nearer and nearer until the occupants could be clearly seen.
When the two craft were about half a mile apart, the canoe suddenly disappeared. It had been seen by another party of tourists and both groups agreed that it was a full war canoe manned by Maoris in traditional clothing. No such craft had been used on lake Tarawera for many generations, and news of the apparition caused great alarm at Te Ariki and Te Wairoa.
Tuhoto, a tohunga reputedly 104 years old, was said to have put a curse on the region several days before because the younger Maoris were disrespectful and giving up the old ways. He declared that it was an omen that the whole region would be overwhelmed, for this was a waka-wairau, a death canoe, that indicated many would die.
Guide Sophia had also been disturbed at signs of increased thermal activity around Rotomahana and there had been a slight increase in the number of earthquakes which frequently shook the area. Apart from this, everything appeared normal.
It was intensely cold at Te Wairoa on the night of June 9, but the clear sky was ideal for observing the eclipse of Mars by the moon. Those who watched it could see Tarawera - "bare and scarred, its steep walls rising up black and desolate as if blasted with lightning-the every sublimity of desolation" -brooding in the bright moonlight.
But for residents of the area Tarawera's appearance had become familiar, a sleeping giant that would never rouse and harm them.
About 12.30 a.m. Te Wairoa was shaken by a series of earthquakes which grew in intensity and frequency. In the school house the schoolmaster Charles Haszard roused his family and guests, -Blyth, another surveyor named Harry Lundius and a mission servant, Mary Te Mu.
As his daughter, Ina, later recalled, "the moon was still shining and, together with the glow from the mountain, it was an uncommon spectacle". Haszard stood entranced.
At the Rotomahana Hotel, Joseph McRae had roused his guest, Edwin Bainbridge, and together they had gone to a hilltop where they could see Mt Tarawera, "a sight no man who ever saw it can ever forget" McRae wrote. "Apparently Tarawera had three craters, and flames were shooting up fully a thousand feet high.
There seemed to be a continuous shower of balls of fire for miles around." After half an hour they returned as it appeared that a storm was coming up. McRae's brothers-in-law, William and John Bird, with the local storekeeper Jack Falloona, also saw the eruption begin.
At 1.15 a.m. a great explosion was heard from Wahanga and a huge black cloud, pierced by great streaks of lightning, rose to an immense height then fanned out with incredible rapidity. Then, at 1.45 a.m. Ruawahia also broke out. Clutching each other for support the three men ran, over ground continually in motion, to McRae's Hotel.
About the same time Alf Warbrick, a Rotorua boatbuilder on a hunting trip between Lakes Rotoiti and Mt Tarawera, heard "a thundering roar of still greater intensity, if such were conceivable, and I saw the South end of Tarawera peak split right down and open up, vomiting forth an immense amount of flame"
A Rushing Column of Fire:At Te Wairoa the inhabitants were all sheltering, but in Rotorua the Government telegraph officer, Roger Dansey, saw the later stages of the eruption. Previously he had seen what he described as "several bright blue rockets" shoot out of Tarawera. Then about 2.20 a.m. he was roused by a "terrific roar" that he thought was "caused by an earthquake kind of wave coming along, it seemed to have an above and under ground sound about it".
Outside he saw an "immense column of fire miles in height rushing up heavenwards with a frightful roar. It was not a flame of fire, but an immensely solid column of fire rushing up perpendicularly.
Its sides were not jagged, but even as the edges of a board. It appeared to be from 300 to 400 yards in width, even at a distance of 10 miles, and of even width from its base to the very top, where it was cut off square with its sides.
Huge streaks of yellow, red, black and grey ran straight up the column." As Dansey watched, further craters opened up until there were five on Mt Tarawera, three on Wahanga and a further seven or eight mud volcanoes between Rotomahana and Lake Okara. He concluded that one volcano had blown the bottom out of Rotomahana.
As he watched he saw a fireball "bounding like a huge football from spur to spur, then it makes a three mile bound right to the top of Whakapungakau and bang into the bush".
The group in the school house had moved to an adjacent iron-covered drawing room which they considered would offer more protection against the almost continuous lightning. It was not until a piece of rock broke through the roof that they realised that they were caught in the throes of an eruption.
By 2 a.m. it was pitch black and by 3 a.m. the walls were beginning to bend from the pressure of the piled-up mud. Just as Haszard rose to put out the fire in the stove, the roof collapsed beneath the mass of mud, killing him.
Ina and Mary Te Mu found their way to an attached bedroom and sheltered beneath a table. Minutes later they were covered to their shoulders in sticky mud. They sat on the table and, to their surprise, found that no mud fell on them.
Ina's sister Clara had been helped from the shattered remnants by Blyth and Lundius. They had sheltered on the veranda of the wooden portion of the school house but this was set on fire by lightning. In the glare of the burning building, they saw the fowl¬house was still intact. There they stayed until morning.
A similar chain of events was unfolding at the Rotomahana Hotel, where 11 Europeans and a number of Maori had gathered in the smoking¬room.
"The roof of the hotel gave way about half past four a.m.", according to McRae, "the debris falling into the rooms below." They went to the newest part of the building-the drawing room-"but it was with the greatest difficulty we got there, owing to falling stones and mud which impeded us".
On Bainbridge's suggestion they prayed, then resolved to seek other shelter. In pitch darkness and battered by falling stones and hot mud, they made their way to Sophia's whare, already crowded with refugees.
Six of the party were missing, so McRae, with incredible bravery, went out to search for them and found all except Bainbridge. In Sophia's whare nearly 60 people waited for the end to come.
About 6 a.m. the downpour of mud and ash seemed to slacken, so at 6.30 a.m. McRae and the Birds took a candle in a bottle and went up to the school house. There they found Clara, Ina, the two surveyors and Mary and sent them back to the whare.
As there was no way of knowing whether the Mt Tarawera eruption had ended or whether it was merely a lull, it was decided that the women should walk the 10 miles to Rotorua. Four men went with them, while the rest remained behind to search the ruins for survivors buried in the mud and ashes.
Just beyond the shattered remnants of the Tikitapu bush, the refugees found a rescue party from Ohinemutu, so the men returned to Te Wairoa. In the ruins of the school house they found Mrs Haszard, completely covered with debris and pinned by one leg, but still alive. She had lain there helpless while her four-year-old daughter, 10-year-old son and a nephew had suffocated in the mounting mud.
Soon a party of nearly 70 men were at work, freeing the entombed and recovering the bodies. Beneath the wreckage of the Rotomahana Hotel veranda they found the body of Bainbridge. It was not until June 13 that a rescue party was able to get two boats on to Lake Tarawera and cross to Te Ariki and the nearby village of Moura.
Of Moura and its 39 inhabitants there were no traces, while 250 feet of mud and lava covered the site of Te Ariki. Beneath it lay 52 people who must have died in the first moments of the Mt Tarawera eruption. The village of Kariri and two settlements on the Green Lake had also been overwhelmed.
The sounds of the Tarawera eruption were heard as far away as Hokianga, Christchurch and Nelson. In Auckland it was at first reported that a ship had gone aground on the Manukau bar; it was not until Dansey managed to establish a telegraph link that the citizens of Auckland learnt what they had heard and seen.
Nearer to the mountain more disturbing experiences were reported. The coastal Bay of Plenty settlements from Tauranga to Opotiki all reported similar occurrences: earthquakes, lightning, and what sounded like rain in a pitch blackness which persisted in most areas until after 10 a.m. In Opotiki one correspondent reported a layer of ash and sand one and a half inches deep.
The people of Rotorua had spent a night almost as terrifying as that of the inhabitants of Te Wairoa. With a clear view of Mt Tarawera in eruption and surrounded by thermal regions which had redoubled their activity, many had fled to the township of Waihou seven miles away.
Ash had started falling about 4 a.m. but a strong south-westerly wind had come up and carried the ash cloud over largely uninhabited country towards the coast. It was this cloud which had brought darkness back to the coastal settlements, but only a light coating of debris.
The steamer Wellington, sent by the Government in response to appeals for help, arrived at Tauranga early on the morning of the 11th.
By then it was clear that the danger was over. All that remained was to rescue people and possessions that had survived and to assess the death and destruction. Scientists, reporters, the concerned and the curious rushed to the scene. From their accounts emerged a tale of incredible devastation.
Physical Upheaval: The eruption had torn a chasm which stretched for 12 miles south of Tarawera. Up to half a mile broad, its depth varied from 350 feet to 1,400 feet. Rotomahana and the Terraces had disappeared; instead there was an inferno of geysers and mud pools below the old level of the lake.
Seven years later the water began to return until a new lake was formed, three square miles in area. and 789 feet deep. It was this rent which had formed the monstrous cloud which had filled the sky and showered the surrounding country with mud, ash and stones.
Usually a volcano ejects a lava flow from its crater, but in the Mt Tarawera eruption the molten rock had been mixed with the superheated steam that had once been Rotomahana to form fine dust and sand that was carried for miles with the mud from the lake floor.
The Government geologist estimated that fall-out from the mountain covered an area of 6,120 square miles of land and an unknown area of sea. A steamer 122 miles off the Bay of Plenty coast was coated in ash. Over 82 square miles the deposit was more than three feet deep; around the base of the mountain lava flows and mud had built deposits up to 700 feet deep.
An estimated 1,960 million cubic feet of ash had been spewed up in the Tarawera eruption that lasted little more than six hours.
The death toll of the Mt Tarawera eruption will never be known accurately, but it is generally accepted that over 150 people perished.
One of the last victims to be claimed by the Tarawera mountain was old Tuhoto, whose curse local Maori believed had brought on the eruption. He was dug out, apparently hale and hearty despite his age and a four-day burial, and taken to Rotorua hospital where he died a fortnight later. According to Guide Sophia, it was the haircut he received there which caused his death.
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the burried village
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this is an amazing placse for shcool camps and learning about Rotorua
Mt Tarawera Volcano Tours