The Story of the Pink & White Terraces, a Lost NZ Wonder that International Students Should Know About

Thursday, September 17, 2020

While New Zealand has many wonders that can still be seen today, one of our most legendary landmarks now sits deep beneath the waters of Lake Rotomahana 20km to the south-east of Rotorua.

The Pink Terrace, Te Otukapuarangi (the Fountain of the Clouded Sky) and the White Terrace, Te Tarata (the Tattooed Rock) were natural wonders of NZ, located on the shores of Lake Rotomahana and lost in the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption. Over 120 people were killed in the eruption, which lasted over six hours, and the natural landscape was reshaped beyond recognition. Once dubbed the eighth wonder of the world, it was one of the world’s largest silica terraces – created by thermal waters that flowed from the centre of the earth.

The White Terrace was the formation at the top, descending 30 metres down and covering three hectares of land. The water on these levels was boiling hot and pulled straight from the earth. The hot water on the upper level pool would overflow, cascading down, filling and shaping basins, the water cooling down at each level, so it was warm and great for bathing in towards the bottom. The image here is from an oil painting by Charles Blomfield, an English settler who spent years at the terraces, painting them before and after they were lost. The Pink Terrace was located across the lake and it had a smaller set of terraces consisting of solid shelves of silica. The pools formed here were full of warm, blue water and shaped perfectly for bathing.

When the eruption happened, Lake Rotomahana grew 20 times its original size and now holds the world’s largest hot water spring, has the purest strain of Rainbow Trout in the world and is protected as a scenic reserve. The best way to explore the area and understand how it was formed by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886 is with the full Waimangu Volcanic Valley walking and boat tour, currently on a discounted price of $40 for adults (16+). The terraces are recreated in an augmented reality app on-site.

As well as the terraces, neighbouring villages were also lost in the eruption. Te Wairoa was one of the villages buried by the volcanic ash and clay and has since become New Zealand’s most visited Archaeological site. Before the eruption, tourists would flock to the town to stay and visit the famous terraces. The Tūhourangi people were at the forefront of tourist development here – protecting the terraces against vandalism, providing guides, meals and accommodation for tourists. Visitors now flock to the Buried Village of Te Wairoa Museum, to view the ancient artefacts preserved by volcanic ash and uncovered again in the last century. Tickets cost $32NZD for students or $10 for teenagers (13-17 years old).

Hinemihi was the tribal meeting house of the Tuhourangi people of Te Wairoa, built in 1880, it safely sheltered people from the eruption. After surviving the volcanic eruption, it was recovered, and transported to the grounds of Clandon Park, Surrey by the 4th Earl of Onslow, when he purchased it for 50 pounds and shipped it to England. Hinemihi o te Ao Tawhito will soon be brought ‘home’ however, as the National Trust UK contacted Ngāti Hinemihi and Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga to say that they had agreed-in-principle to an exchange in 2019 – where a new whare (Māori hut/house) will be built in Hinemihi’s place.

Located 90km South of the former site of the Pink and White Terraces, the Wairakei Terraces are three man-made pools, containing similar silica-enriched waters to that of the Pink and White Terraces before their flooding. They have been placed to take advantage of the geothermal water flow from the waterfall and silica terraces above and are fed from waters drawn up from underground. You need to be older than 14 to use the pools.

In 2011 scientists announced that they had found what they believed to be part of the Pink and White Terraces, underwater in Lake Rotomahana, which drops to 115m deep. This would mean that the volcanic eruption caused them to ‘drown’, rather than be destroyed, as water levels rose, and the terraces sank due to the movement of the earth cause by the volcanic activity. This was further developed in 2019 when footage believed to be showing the submerged Pink Terraces was released.


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