The Buried Village of Te Wairoa Blog

Eruption Commemoration

Birth of the New Zealand Tourism Industry

26 May 2016

The area surrounding the village of Te Wairoa was originally established as a mission and model village in the colonialisation efforts following the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.  One of the early inhabitants, a Reverend Spencer, sought to develop agriculture in the area by introducing wheat to the valley and building a flour mill.  However, before long, the driving economic force came to be the nascent New Zealand tourism industry, spurred by the nearby Pink and White Terraces, which came to be considered the eighth wonder of the world.

Agriculture was abandoned as tourism boomed.  The Village of Te Wairoa was officially established to incorporate the increasing tourism visits to the Pink and White Terraces.  New settlers moved into the region and local Iwi gained financially, but unrest developed over land disputes and an increasing Western influence replacing traditional ways of life. 

Despite a period of unrest, during which frequent skirmishes arose and both Pakeha and Maori withdrew from the village, word of the Pink and White Terraces continued to grow internationally.  Intrepid tourists made the three-month voyage by ship to soak in the world-renowned geothermally heated pools, driving tourism to the rest of New Zealand at the same time.  In 1874, peace had returned to the region and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Pink and White Terraces, staying in the former home of missionary Reverend Spencer.  For the next decade, The Village of Te Wairoa quickly expanded with hotels and restaurants to accommodate the increasing influx of tourism.  Regional tourism also grew, as word spread of the area’s geothermal wonders and healing waters.  The site surrounding the current day Rotorua Museum and The Polynesian Spa were also in the early stages of development around this time.

With a booming tourist industry in place, the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera because a fateful event indeed.  Destroying both the village and the Pink and White Terraces that made the area famous, lives and livelihoods were also lost alongside the renowned geological wonder.

However, with the legacy of tourism firmly in place, inhabitants of the area rebuilt their lives around the concepts of hospitality and showcasing their home’s natural wonder.  In 1901, the New Zealand government established the world’s first tourism office, the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, which provided funding to the bathhouse in Rotorua City and promoted general New Zealand tourism to the rest of the world through graphic artwork, stamps and travel posters.  The wake of the eruption also created the world’s youngest active geothermal field, Waimangu Valley.  By 1906, a coach and boat tour circuit was running from Rotorua through to Waimangu, Rotomahana, Lake Tarawera and past newly rebuilt tearooms and accommodation at Te Wairoa Village, giving tourists a look at the remnants of the 1886 eruption.  In 1908, Rotorua’s geothermal spa opened on the site that is now the Rotorua Museum. 

In 1931, a Rotorua accountant, Reg Smith, and his wife Violet bought the site of Te Wairoa.  Reg biked daily to his accountancy practice in Rotorua while his wife re-opened the tearooms which had been closed for 20 years.  Together with their sons Dudley and Basil they clear the overgrown site of gorse and blackberry.  The business grew with the popularity of the Waimangu Round Trip which passed its doors.  Visitors wanted to see the remains of the old settlement and the Buried Village Experience evolved from there.  Since then, three generations of the Smith family have owned and developed the Buried Village as a popular tourist attraction.  In 1999, the Buried Village Museum opened alongside the archaeological site, preserving the history of the area and providing a narrative of the New Zealand tourism industry as a whole.

June 10th, 2016 marks the 130th Anniversary of the Mt Tarawera eruption.  To celebrate, the Buried Village will be offering free entry to all on the weekend of June 11th and 12th.  Join us and discover the rich history of this colourful area and how our region was an influence on the larger New Zealand tourism industry as a whole.

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