Living History

Pink and White Terraces

Before Mt Tarawera erupted on that terrifying night in the early hours of June 10, 1886, the Pink and White Terraces on the shores of Lake Rotomahana near Rotorua were considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. The terraces were formed as water containing silica flowed from the boiling geysers at the top down the hillside. The water cooled and crystallised into the terraces and pools, forming giant staircases or waterfalls.

The Pink and White Terraces, or Otukapuarangi (fountain of the clouded sky) and Te Tarata (the tattooed rock), attracted tourists from far and wide. The White Terrace was the larger formation, covering 3 hectares and descending 30 metres. The Pink Terrace was where people went to bathe on the lower levels because the temperature of the water was lukewarm.

When Mount Tarawera erupted June 10th 1886, Lake Rotomahana also erupted, destroying the stunning terraces. Photographs and paintings were all that was thought to have remained of these once so beautiful natural wonders. 

On that night the terraces collided with what was New Zealand’s greatest natural disaster and just after midnight on June 10th, the people in Te Wairoa were woken by a sequence of smaller earthquakes followed by a much larger one and finally massive explosions. For more than four terrifying hours, rocks, ash and mud bombarded the peaceful village. 

As was the effect in other eruption affected areas like Pompeii in Italy, the violent and unexpected eruption buried Te Wairoa and several other smaller villages under hot heavy ash and mud.

With the loss of this beautiful natural wonder came a sobering reality check, the Tarawera eruption changed the New Zealand landscape significantly, dramatically and permanently. Greater than that, around 150 people lost their lives and the exact number of casualties has never been determined.

Yet, a hope of re-discovery exists. In February 2011 scientists announced that they had found what they believe to be part of the Pink Terraces, 60m under water in Lake Rotomahana.

The tragic loss of the Pink and White terraces was so immediate and unforgiving that the loss is only compounded by time. Shrouded in mystery and illusion the terraces continue to live on in our collective psyche.


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