10 June 1886 Eruption of Mt Tarawera
The eruption lasted six hours and caused massive destruction. Several villages were destroyed, along with the famous silica hot springs known as the Pink and White Terraces. Approximately 120 people, nearly all Māori, lost their lives.
Eleven days before the eruption, passengers travelling on a tourist boat with the renowned guide Sophia Hinerangi reported seeing a phantom war canoe on Lake Tarawera. Tribal elders believed this was a waka wairua (spirit canoe) – an omen of doom. More tangible signs included an increase in hot spring activity and surges in Lake Tarawera.
In the early hours of 10 June, locals awoke to earthquakes, lightning, fountains of molten rock, and columns of smoke and ash up to 10 km high. People as far away as Blenheim heard the eruption. Some thought it was an attack by a Russian warship which had recently visited Wellington.
A 17-km rift split Mt Tarawera and extended as far as Waimangu. The land was covered with millions of tonnes of ash and debris. Lakes were transformed and bush was flattened. The eruption was over by about 6 a.m., though the ash made day as dark as night. Once the darkness abated, men from Rotorua and Ōhinemutu formed rescue parties and began digging out survivors and casualties. The settlements of Te Tapahoro, Moura, Te Ariki, Totarariki, Waingongongo and Te Wairoa were destroyed. Te Wairoa, where many survived by sheltering in the stronger buildings, is now a tourist attraction, ‘The Buried Village’.
New Zealand’s volcanoes still pose a risk today. A geological hazard monitoring scheme, GeoNet, has been developed by the Crown research institute GNS Science and the Earthquake Commission. GeoNet has an alert system that is activated when volcanic activity increases.
- Mt Tarawera (Chch City Libraries)
- Painting of the eruption (Timeframes)
- The Tarawera eruption (Te Ara)
- Historic volcanic activity (Te Ara)
- Disasters and mishaps (1966 encyclopaedia)
- Tarawera phantom canoe (1966 encyclopaedia)
- Memorial to Edwin Bainbridge (Flickr)
- Tarawera doco (NZOnScreen)
- White Terraces rediscovered (GNSscience video)