Eruption of Mt Tarawera

10 June 1886

Painting of Mt Tarawera erupting by Charles Blomfield (Alexander Turnbull Library, C-033-002)

The eruption lasted six hours and caused massive destruction. It destroyed several villages, along with the famous silica hot springs known as the Pink and White Terraces. Approximately 120 people, nearly all Māori, lost their lives.

In the early hours of 10 June, people 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.

A 17-km-long rift split Mt Tarawera and extended as far south as Waimangu. The eruption covered land with millions of tonnes of ash and debris, transformed lakes, and flattened bush. It was over by dawn, though ash made day as dark as night. Men from Rotorua and Ōhinemutu formed rescue parties and began digging out survivors and casualties. Settlements at Te Tapahoro, Moura, Te Ariki, Totarariki, Waingongongo and Te Wairoa were destroyed or buried. Te Wairoa, known as ‘The Buried Village’, later became a tourist attraction.

Watch the Tarawera television documentary (NZ On Screen):

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