The white and pink terraces, disappeared by a volcanic eruption in 1886, and rediscovered in 2011

Nature does not distinguish or is intimidated by anything, not even by its own monuments. This is what happened on June 10, 1886 when the eruption of the Tarawera volcano destroyed the Pink terraces (Te O-tu-kapua-rangi, the cloudy sky fountain) and White (Te Tarata, the rock tattoo).

Both natural wonders were located on the edge of Lake Rotomahana, near the city of Rotorua in the North Island of New Zealand, separated from each other about 1,200 meters. Its appearance, very similar to that of Turkey’s Pammukkale, was determined by the effect of geothermal springs over the centuries, shaping the sintered silica deposits there, the largest in the world.

In addition, the color of the pink terraces was due to the presence of antimony and arsenic sulfides, and small concentrations of gold.

Pink Terraces painting (Charles Blomfield, 1884) / photo Public domain at Museum of New Zealand

For at least 7,000 years, the precipitation of silica-containing waters shaped the terraced pools, the image of which was disseminated in numerous paintings and photographs in the 19th century (before the appearance of color, so its famous color cannot be appreciated). . The white terraces were the largest of the two, with a surface area of ​​about 8 hectares, 50 staggered layers and a total drop of 25 meters along 240 meters in length. The roses had a drop of 22 meters and a length of 100.

Since the upper terraces were wider and deeper than the lower ones, with the consequent variety of temperatures, tourists and onlookers used to prefer them for bathing. In the roses, for example, the upper terraces reached 100 meters in width, while the lower ones had an average of 27 meters.

The writer Anthony Trollope, who enjoyed a bath in the pink terraces in 1874 wrote:

The baths are shell-shaped, like large open shells, whose walls are concave and the lips are ornamented in a thousand ways

Te Otukapuarangi and Te Tarata were already famous among the local population when Europeans began to visit them. One of the first would be Ernst Dieffenbach, a German naturalist and geologist who was a correspondent and translator for the scientific journal of Charles Darwin, who visited them in 1841. Later he would describe them in his book Travels in New Zealand, making them known to the general public and reaching be considered as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The White Terraces / unknown author and date, public domain on Wikimedia Commons

But around 2 a.m. on June 10, 1886, a huge crack 17 kilometers long, which crossed the entire mountain to Lake Rotomahana and the Waimangu Valley, was opened by violent earthquakes and from it began to come out clouds of black ash, lava and red-hot rocks. The Tarawera eruption had begun. Numerous Maori settlements were destroyed, 150 people were reported dead, and where the terraces had been, a crater more than 100 meters deep was left.

Over time, this crater filled with water again, forming the current Lake Rotomahana, 40 meters higher than the previous one and ten times larger. The terraces were thought to have disappeared forever.

However, in February 2011 a team of researchers from GNS Science, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Lamont-Dohery Earth Observatory and the University of Waikato, who were mapping the bottom of the lake, found part of the pink terraces 60 meters deep. In June of that same year the white terraces were also found, curiously when the 125th anniversary of the eruption was celebrated.

The White Terraces, photograph by Charles Spencer (1880-1885) / photo Public domain on Wikimedia Commons

However, not all specialists agree that what was discovered is exactly Te Otukapuarangi and Te Tarata. Some, like Bill Kleir, claim that these structures are not exactly where they were before the eruption. If they were, he claims, they should have appeared just 10 meters deep. He instead thinks that they are prehistoric terraces never before seen by humans, or created by the action of the volcano.

Rex Bunn and Sascha Nolden, based on the diaries of Ferdinand von Hochstetter, who carried out a topographical and geological survey of the lake in 1859, believe that the true white and pink terraces are not submerged in it, but buried on its shore, about 10 –15 meters deep. Archaeological excavations are currently being carried out to bring them to light.


Rotorua Museum / New Zealand Herald / GNS Science / Wikipedia

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