Located 24 kilometres south-east of Rotorua, Tarawera is a curious-looking mountain, with several large domes and a broad, flat top.
This distinctive profile formed during eruptions around 1314 AD.
However, early Māori and the Europeans who arrived in the 1800s did not realise that it was an active volcano and, in June 1886, it came to life in a violent one-day eruption – the deadliest in the history of New Zealand settlement.
When Mount Tarawera erupted, the surrounding countryside was completely remade. The eruption killed over 100 people and created an entirely new landscape of steaming fumaroles, boiling mud, and deadly hot springs all inside the new caldera.
In the days before Mt Tarawera erupted there was an increase in hot spring activity, but otherwise there were no warning signs.
However, eleven days before, a number of people reported a disturbing sight: a ghostly, fully-laden waka (a Maori war canoe) being paddled across Lake Tarawera, in the shadow of the mountain.
The sighting was widely discussed, and received much attention from artists and writers after the eruption, but has never been satisfactorily explained.
At Te Wairoa village, that was established in 1848 by Christian missionaries as a model village, 7.5 kilometres from the terraces, people were woken after midnight on 10 June 1886 by a series of increasingly violent earthquakes. A 17-kilometre rift spewed steam, mud and ash, and the eruptions were over by about 6 a.m.
Rumblings from the Tarawera eruption were heard as far south as Blenheim, in the South Island. In the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, people woken by the explosions saw distant flashes on the horizon and, Aboard the Glenelg, moored in the Bay of Plenty, Captain Stephenson saw hovering over the land “large balls of fire, which suddenly appeared, and then broke into a thousand stars.”
The site of the terraces became a crater over 100 metres deep. Steam eruptions continued in the crater for several months, but within 15 years it filled with water, forming a new lake, much larger than its predecessor.
Either way, sixty years after the eruption, the Smith family purchased the land and began excavating, looking for the remains of the lost village.
Today visitors can explore the 12-acre site including the excavated village, museum, and a reconstruction of a pioneer era cottage.
Miraculously, the meeting house known as Hinemihi survived along with those who took shelter beneath its roof.
In 1891 it was purchased for £50 and transported to England, where it remains at Clandon Park in Surrey to this day.
Images from web – Google Research