DISASTERS AND MISHAPS – ERUPTIONS
Statistics declare that when Mt. Tarawera, 20 miles from Rotorua in the thermal region of the North Island, blew up on 10 June 1886 the eruption, which lasted six hours, and the accompanying earthquakes, destroyed three villages, killed 153 people, submerged the Pink and White Terraces (among the wonders of the world), dried up a 284–acre lake, shattered roads, bridges, and communications, and spread a mantle of deadly ash and debris over 6,000 square miles of farm land and forest, and even out to sea. From the reports and experiences of eyewitnesses it is difficult to believe that any one could have survived. Mt. Tarawera had long been believed to be extinct as a volcano, even by many Maoris whose native habitat was this district. But on a cold, cloudless, moonlight night of 10 June, it shattered all such illusions for Maori and Pakeha alike. It suddenly thundered into violent eruption, rending its tree-clad slopes and, almost without any warning, poured forth fire, lava, mud, and rock on to the tiny villages of Te Wairoa, Te Ariki, and Moura. The volcano, by dispensing with its three age-old craters, all but destroyed itself in the upheaval, while wide areas of the surrounding countryside were changed out of recognition. Survivors endeavouring to make their way to safety the following day found themselves hopelessly lost in a region which to many had for years been familiar terrain.
The official death roll varies according to its source, but it is generally accepted that 147 Maoris and six Europeans perished in that night of terror. The village of Moura was precipitated into Lake Rotomahana, the waters themselves finally disappearing, and Te Ariki was later found to be buried beneath from 30 to 40 ft of volcanic debris. Te Wairoa, 9 miles from the mountain, on the shores of Lake Tarawera, was razed and all but covered with ash and mud. It was here that the majority of the European casualties occurred. The shallow waters of 284–acre Lake Rotomahana drained away and the lake bed was lowered from about 30 to 250 ft, from where craters, small geysers, and mudholes spluttered and fumed for seven years until the water returned to form a new. lake 20 times the area of the old one and nearly 10 times as deep. But scenically, the irreparable tragedy of the upheaval was the complete destruction of the world-famous Pink and White Terraces, which in form or beauty had no parallel anywhere in the globe. The phenomenon took the shape of a fanlike staircase whose terraces covered more than 7 acres and glittered in the most delicate shades of pink, white, and turquoise. The formation was the work of a geyser above it, which for untold years had played upon the mountain slope, creating first rippling falls, and then, with its volcanic touch, transforming these into symmetrical terraces which required only the glint of sunshine or moonlight to bring out the unique tracery and colour of their beauty.
The mountain did not merely destroy these marvels; it obliterated them entirely, so that today no man can say with certainty exactly where they lie buried beneath a countryside whose wounds have largely been healed by nature. Some measure of their loveliness has been preserved in pictorial form by a variety of artists, some of whose work is today housed in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.