Kayaks, Lake Tarawera
Image: Stefan Marks | Creative Commons

Introduction

Explore the shores and peaks of Tarawera, the site of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most devastating volcanic eruption. Discover spectacular biodiversity, clear lakes and waterfalls, original rock paintings, and soothing geothermal pools.

Highlights

During the 1800s the dramatic Pink and White Terraces attracted global visitors and established Rotorua as New Zealand’s first tourist site.

Though the Terraces were soon lost, a rich historic reserve rises from their burial ground. With a wide variety of features, Tarawera has something for everyone.

Visitors can still experience the rich, warm mineral waters that appealed to so many at Te Rātā/Hot Water Beach. Access to Tarawera Falls and Hot Water Beach follows a track through beautiful native forest, but those keen to trace the course of the original tourists can ride on a water taxi across the lake. Rock carvings, dated to pre-1886, are visible at Punaromia/The Landing. Lake Rotomahana, the resting place of the Terraces, is now twenty times the original size in Waimangu Volcanic Valley. 

Getting there

Access to Tarawera is from Kawerau township (off SH 30 between Rotorua and Whakatane) via private forestry roads which require permits. The forest gate is closed during the hours of darkness. The forest road may be closed in summer when fire risk is high.

A thriving venture

In the 1800s, word spread of the eighth Natural Wonder of the World to be found at Tarawera – the spectacular Pink and White Terraces. The local tribes Tūhourangi and Ngāti Rangitihi, alongside non-Māori developers, profited greatly from this boom in tourism. Their success increased steadily until one night carved into the grounds of Tarawera – 10 June 1886.

Devastation in the dead of night

Predicted by the tohunga/priest Tūhoto Ariki, New Zealand’s deadliest volcanic eruption struck at around 10 pm. 120 people lost their lives, 6 settlements were buried, and the Terraces vanished overnight. Those who escaped the eruption sought shelter in Hinemihi whare, later relocated to Clandon Park in Surrey.

A forced migration and hopeful return

The nutrient-rich fields were covered by thick volcanic ash, so the survivors made the 17 km trek to Tikitapu/Blue Lake near Rotorua. Though they had no choice but to leave in order to find work, their descendants have returned to once again serve as guides.

Further reading

Documentary series 

Comprehensive history

Geological information

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