Mount Tarawera

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Mount Tarawera
Fissure formed during 1886 Tarawera eruption
Highest point
Elevation1,111 m (3,645 ft)
Coordinates38°13′00″S 176°31′00″E / 38.21667°S 176.51667°E / -38.21667; 176.51667Coordinates: 38°13′00″S 176°31′00″E / 38.21667°S 176.51667°E / -38.21667; 176.51667
Mountain typeLava dome with fissure vent
Volcanic arc/beltTaupo Volcanic Zone
Last eruptionMay 1981 (Waimangu)
June 1951 (Rotomahana)
June to August 1886 (Tarawera)

Mount Tarawera is the volcano responsible for one of New Zealand's largest historic eruptions. Located 24 kilometres southeast of Rotorua in the North Island, it consists of a series of rhyolitic lava domes that were fissured down the middle by an explosive basaltic eruption in 1886, which killed an estimated 120 people. These fissures run for about 17 kilometres northeast-southwest.

The volcano's component domes include Ruawahia Dome (the highest at 1,111 metres), Tarawera Dome and Wahanga Dome. It is surrounded by several lakes, most of which were created or drastically altered by the 1886 eruption. These lakes include Lakes Tarawera, Rotomahana, Rerewhakaaitu, Okataina, Okareka, Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Rotokakahi (Green Lake). The Tarawera River runs northeastwards across the northern flank of the mountain from Lake Tarawera.

Circa 1315 eruption[edit]

Mount Tarawera erupted around 1315. The ash thrown from this event may have affected temperatures around the globe and precipitated the Great Famine of 1315–17 in Europe.[1][2][3]

1886 eruption[edit]

Volcanic crater

Shortly after midnight on the morning of 10 June 1886, a series of more than 30 increasingly strong earthquakes were felt in the Rotorua area[4] and by 2:30 am Mount Tarawera's three peaks had erupted, blasting three distinct columns of smoke and ash thousands of metres into the sky[5] At around 3.30 am, the largest phase of the eruption commenced; vents at Rotomahana produced a pyroclastic surge that destroyed several villages within a 6 kilometre radius, and the Pink and White Terraces appeared to be obliterated.

Crumbling scoria cliffs surround the summit rift

The Māori settlements of Moura, Te Koutu, Kokotaia, Piripai, Pukekiore, Otuapane, Te Tapahoro, Te Wairoa, Totarariki, and Waingongoro were buried or destroyed. The official death toll was reported as 153, and many more were displaced, making the eruption the most deadly in New Zealand history.[6]

The eruption also buried many Māori villages, including Te Wairoa, which has now become a tourist attraction called "the buried village of Te Wairoa", and the world-famous Pink and White Terraces were thought lost. A small portion of the Pink Terraces was reportedly rediscovered under Lake Rotomahana 125 years later.[7]

The phantom canoe[edit]

The Phantom Canoe: A Legend of Lake Tarawera, by Kennett Watkins

One legend[8] surrounding the 1886 eruption is that of the phantom canoe. Eleven days before the eruption, a boat full of tourists returning from the Terraces saw what appeared to be a war canoe approach their boat, only to disappear in the mist half a mile from them. One of the witnesses was a clergyman, a local Maori man from the Te Arawa iwi. Nobody around the lake owned such a war canoe, and nothing like it had been seen on the lake for many years. It is possible that the rise and fall of the lake level caused by pre-eruption fissures had freed a burial waka (canoe) from its resting place. Traditionally dead chiefs were tied in an upright position. A number of letters have been published from the tourists who experienced the event.

Though skeptics maintained that it was a freak reflection seen on the mist, tribal elders at Te Wairoa claimed that it was a waka wairua (spirit canoe) and was a portent of doom. It has been suggested that the waka was actually a freak wave on the water, caused by seismic activity below the lake, but locals believe that a future eruption will be signaled by the reappearance of the canoe.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cantor, Norman L. (2001). In the wake of the plague: the Black Death and the world it made. New York: Free Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-684-85735-0.
  2. ^ Nairn I.A.; Shane P.R.; Cole J.W.; Leonard G.J.; Self S.; Pearson N. (2004). "Rhyolite magma processes of the ~AD 1315 Kaharoa eruption episode, Tarawera volcano, New Zealand". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 131 (3–4): 265–94. Bibcode:2004JVGR..131..265N. doi:10.1016/S0377-0273(03)00381-0.
  3. ^ Hodgson K.A.; Nairn I.A. (September 2005). "The c. AD 1315 syn-eruption and AD 1904 post-eruption breakout floods from Lake Tarawera, Haroharo caldera, North Island, New Zealand". New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 48 (3): 491. doi:10.1080/00288306.2005.9515128.
  4. ^ "On this day: Tarawera volcanic eruption in 1886". New Zealand Earthquake Commission. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  5. ^ "Mt Tarawera eruption 125th anniversary". Department of Conservation, Government of New Zealand.
  6. ^ "Okataina Volcanic Centre". New Zealand GeoNet. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  7. ^ NZPA and NBR staff (2 February 2011). "Scientists find Pink Terraces – NZ's lost 'eighth wonder of the world'". National Business Review. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
  8. ^ "Rotorua NZ – Explore Rotorua – Natural and cultural attracitions". Archived from the original on 2008-09-07. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)

External links[edit]