Four killed by Rotorua geyser

30 August 1903

Waimangu geyser, c. 1903-04
Waimangu geyser, c. 1903-04 (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-038135-F)

Guide Joseph Warbrick and three tourists were killed instantly when the Waimangu geyser erupted unexpectedly.

North Island geyser fields played an important part in the emergence of New Zealand’s tourism industry in the late 19th century. After the eruption of Mt Tarawera destroyed one of the major fields, Rotomahana, in 1886, geyser tourism received a boost in 1900 when the Waimangu (‘black water’) geyser burst into life.

The largest known geyser in the world at the time, its activity increased in 1903, attracting more visitors. Warbrick and the party he was leading were caught out by a highly unpredictable natural phenomenon. The regularity and force of the geyser began to wane in 1904 and in November, it stopped as suddenly and inexplicably as it had begun.

Warbrick had earlier achieved some fame as captain of the 1888/89 New Zealand Natives rugby touring team. The first New Zealand representative rugby team to tour beyond Australia, they played a staggering 107 matches in New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain, winning 78 of them.

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