The lost Pink and White Terraces


Pink and White Terraces

Until recently, the Pink and White Terraces of New Zealand were thought to have been destroyed in the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera. The Pink Terrace, known in the local indigenous Maori as Te Otukapuarangi (the fountain of the clouded sky) and The White Terrace, or Te Tarata (the tattooed rock) were formed due to silica rich geothermal springs and geysers, and were thought to be the largest silica sinter deposits on the earth. They were created by two large, regularly spouting visas that cascaded down the hillsides and formed the strangely coloured plateaus that filled with geothermal heated water.

The eruption of Mt Tarawera was the most fatal since the arrival of European settlers. After a series of violent earthquakes, the three peaks of the mountain erupted and painted the sky black with ash, causing thunderstorms and more earthquakes. Molten rock and pillars of smoke were thrust upwards and the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley was created, while the mountain itself was split. Many small villages were buried under the ash, and the official death toll was reported as 150 of mostly Maori people. Tragically, alongside the indigenous villages, the terraces were also buried and Lake Rotomahana was drastically altered and, over time, has become the most recently formed larger lake of New Zealand.
The terraces were thought to be destroyed, but while researches were mapping out the lake in 2011, they accidentally stumbled upon the bottom two tiers of The Pink terraces, around 60m deep. Part of the white terraces was also found in June of the same year. This information was revised in 2012 and 2014 during photography of the remains, when it was discovered that the co-ordinates of the remains were not accurate, and that the submerged formations were more likely to be new terraces formed by geothermal activity rather than the original attraction. It is generally believed that the original structures are either destroyed, as initially thought, or are buried under the new land at the lake's shoreline. If the latter is correct, it is potentially possible to excavate the remains and to restore them to be visible once more, but this would involve digging up the land which belongs to a Maori tribe, who are yet to be convinced by the findings to give permission for this to happen.
The original location was reported in the diaries of Ferdinand von Hochstetter, a German-Austrian geologist and competent surveyor who studied the area in 1859. This information was recently unearthed from the Hochstetter Collection in Basel. According to Hochstetter, the terraces should be 10-15m below the surface of the shoreline, submerged by the now increased water level of the lake.
If you wish to view similar geographical locations, the champagne pools in the Waiotapu is lined with the same sulphides and should give you some sort of impression. There are similar structures in Italy at Terme di Saturnia and Pamukkale in Turkey. One problem is that, while photographers managed to capture the terraces on film, it was in the days before colour photography was invented, so that modern impressions of the springs and terraces are most accurately portrayed in paintings as the surreal and enticing colour was one of the main attractions.
So, for now, the terraces remain submerged to the best of our knowledge. Nobody quite knows what state they are in, or if they exist at all, but maybe one day we will know more. It is a shame as the astonishing geology was, for a short time, considered the eighth natural wonder of the world and the largest tourist attraction of the Southern Hemisphere, with visitors making a pilgrimage from as far away as the UK by boat to witness them, but the strong and often violent tectonic activity that is constantly in action in New Zealand has the ability to destroy and create new formations at any given moment. If arrangements with the Maori tribe go well and if the foundation who completed the research of Hochstetter's diaries can raise enough funding, perhaps we will rediscover them with more certainty, but until that day, the fate of The Pink and White Terraces remains unknown.


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