The sleeping giant

In the early morning of 10 June 1886, a 17 kilometre rift opened in the mountains on the far side of this lake, spewing out steam, fire, and finely pulverised rock.

 

It sleeps on the far side of the lake with the same name. Tarawera. The translation is something like the peaks (or cliffs) that burn. And on 10 June 1886, it did, indeed, burn, and more than a dozen villages around the shores of the lake ceased to exist in a cataclysmic six hours.

Until that day, Lake Tarawera had been part of the journey to the famous Pink and White Terraces, silica deposits cascading down the hillsides of Lake Rotomahana in a series of delicately coloured terraces, studded with hot pools.  Tourists came from Europe to see this scenic wonder of the world, making the long trip by ship and then by coach and finally by whale boat or canoe.

In the early hours of the morning of 10 June, the tourist trade died, along with over 150 people.

It began with a series of violent earthquakes that woke people in the village of Te Wairoa, starting point for the Lake Tarawera crossing. When the mountain began erupting around 2am, tourists left the hotels to climb a nearby slope to see the fireworks, retreating as the great clouds of ash, lava and lightening began to rain debris down on their heads.

The view from the road down to Lake Tarawera. The mountain is in the distance. Te Wairoa was tucked behind the ridge to the right.

It was the beginning of a bombardment that would last six hours and leave the village buried in metres of mud and ash. At that, the village got off lightly. Te Wairoa was protected in a valley and sufficiently distant for most residents and visitors to survive. Those closer to the mountain were not so fortunate, their settlements completely destroyed and buried.

The Pink and White Terraces vanished, leaving a 100 metre crater that later filled with water. Ash choked the skies, so that the day was turned to night. Refugees from the disaster began to trail towards Rotorua, meeting rescue parties as they trudged.

The story of that night is told in diaries written by the tourists and European residents of the area, in the oral tales handed down through the local people, and excavated from the material thrown up by the volcano.

My novella for the Belles’ 2017 holiday box set takes place against the background of the eruption. 

 

 

 

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