Te Wairoa: The Buried Village of New Zealand

Te Wairoa: The Buried Village of New Zealand


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Te Wairoa Village was established by the Christian missionary in 1848, but by the time the eruption of Mt. Tarawera buried the site in volcanic debris, it had survived for less than 40 years.

Its intended layout, dictated by Revered Spencer, was based on the English village with the whares (simple dwellings) and fenced gardens laid along streets. Early photographs, as well as archaeological finds, suggest the village developed into a remarkable combination of traditional Maori and English settlements. The architectural features were also mixed and the settlement became a mash of differing styles and materials.

A new mission station and a school were established in 1852 to cater for the Maori who moved to the fertile Te Wairoa Valley, while an increasing number of tourists visited the Pink and White Terraces.

Reverend Spencer introduced wheat to the Te Wairoa valley and a flour mill was set up beside the Te Wairoa Stream in 1857, but it had been abandoned for several years by the time of the eruption as residents turned from agricultural to tourism as their primary income.

Te Mu Church was completed 1862 just when signs of conflict flared up in the area between the Maori people and the crown. Apart for occasional services for the next 22 years, the church stood idle until it, too, was destroyed by the volcano.

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From 1865 to 1870, many land disputes between Maori took place. As a result, the local Maori withdrew back to Kariri Point and Rev. Spencer left Te Wairoa in 1870 to be with his family who had left in 1864. He died some 30 years later.

By 1886, Te Wairoa was a popular tourist attraction with hotels and guided walks to the terraces. It was on 31 May that tourists spotted a phantom canoe on Lake Tarawera. It was believed to be a bad omen.

Mount Tarawera In Eruption 1886 by Charles Blomfield ( Public Domain )

Just after midnight on 10 June, the people of Te Wairoa were woken by a series of small earthquakes, followed by a much larger one, and finally the massive explosions of Lake Rotomahana. For more than four hours, rocks, ash and mud bombarded the village. Te Wairoa Village was buried under a layer of mud four feet deep. Approximately 153 lives were lost; seventeen from Te Wairoa Village and it became New Zealand's greatest natural disaster.

A few days later, the village tribal priest was blamed for the eruption. He was buried in his whare and the angry Maori refused to dig him up. After four days he was rescued, but died shortly after in hospital.

Guides at Hinemihi Meeting House (Public Domain )

The Maori Meeting House has found a new home in Surrey

Hinemihi, also called ‘the house with the golden eyes’ as gold sovereigns decorated the eyes of the carvings, was the Maori Meeting House in the village. As debris rained down during the eruption, many people took shelter inside. For years after the eruption, Hinemihi stood deep in hardened mud, deserted like the rest of the valley of Te Wairoa, but in 1892, the building was sold to the Earl of Onslow (the Governor General of New Zealand) and shipped to England where it now resides in the grounds of Clandon Park, Surrey.

Hinemihi at Clandon Park, Surrey (Martinez, JJ / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Although tea rooms and accommodation were set up again at Te Wairoa in 1906 to accommodate tourists who wanted to see the aftermath of the volcano, it wasn’t until 1931 that the site was bought and developed by the Smith Family who’ve run it for 80 years.

Museum Exhibit At Te Wairoa ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

In 1999 a museum was added to the existing building to house collections and relics of the Tarawera eruption. It now displays exhibits of the early settlers, the Pink and White Terraces, and shows how Maori and European cultures were integrated during this phase of New Zealand’s social development. More relics are displayed on the sites where they were recovered.

The Pink and White Terraces

Ernst Deiffenbach, one of the first Europeans to visit the Pink and White Terraces, wrote about them in his memoirs. His book inspired many others and as word spread, the terraces became the country’s most famous tourist attraction. Considered to be the eighth wonder of the world, tourists came from all over the globe to visit.

With the devastation of the 1886 eruption, the area’s landscape changed dramatically and the terraces were destroyed. It was a time of immense grief for the Te Wairoa village. Not only were they mourning the loss their homes and loved ones, but they had also lost the region’s most prized treasure.

White Terraces ( Public Domain )

The terraces formed over approximately 500 years as silica rich water flowed down the hillside from boiling geysers. The water cooled and crystallized into the terraces and pools, forming massive stepped waterfalls. The White Terrace, the larger formation, covered three hectares and the smaller Pink Terrace on the lower levels was where people bathed in warm water.

In 2011 scientific researchers with sonar equipment mapped Rotomahana’s floor and found intact remnants of the silica structure along the lake bed. Then a year later, scientists confirmed that about three quarters of the Pink Terraces remain intact. They were only able to find a small trace of the White Terraces.

There is little hope they will ever be fully recovered as the terraces are submerged under nearly 200 feet of water. Nevertheless, it is heartening that part of this iconic wonder is still intact beneath the surface.

Top image: Te Wairoa Dwelling Source: (James Shook / CC BY-SA 2.5 )

By: Michelle Freson


Iwi mourns whānau killed 135 years ago in Tarawera eruption

Friday marks 135 years since the eruption of Mt Tarawera, which killed 120 people, with many settlements destroyed or buried.

One of the iwi forced away from their homelands, Tūhourangi, moved its people inland and some went to the coastal areas of the Bay of Plenty.

On Friday the descendants of Tūhourangi gathered at the shores of Lake Tarawera to send out prayers, led by Te Arawa tohunga, Anaha Hiini, and recalled the tragedy that took place and the future that lies ahead for the iwi.

Tikanga and te reo Māori tohunga of Te Arawa, Wairangi Jones was adamant it was appropriate that the people of Tūhourangi gathered to express their sorrow, which he said was still alive in them today.

“Each year on this day we come, we gather, we remember our loved ones,” Jones said.

The largest phase of the eruption started at 3.30am on June 10, 1886, destroying villages within a six-kilometre radius and obliterating the famed Pink and White Terraces. Tūhourangi began to relocate.

Saved by Hinemiehi

During the eruption, an ancestral meeting house, Hinemihi in the village of Te Wairoa, protected and saved the lives of Māori whānau hiding from the burning ash and fire.

But seven years after the eruption, Hinemihi was sold for 50 pounds to Governor-General the Earl of Onslow was taken to England in 1893. She and now sits at Clandon House in Surrey, England.

But now the people of Tūhourangi are planning her return home.

Another leader of Tūhourangi, Ken Kennedy, travelled with a group of Tūhourangi to England to see Hinemihi standing in England.

“It was such a sad sight to see her there alone. That's where the idea stemmed from to bring her home.” Kennedy said.

Now Tūhourangi is closing in on Hinemihi's return and the goal is to have her home for the 140th commemorations.

This story first appeared on Te Ao – Māori News website and has been republished on Stuff with permission.


The Buried Village of Te Wairoa

Until the late 19th century, the shores of Rotomahana, in northern New Zealand, were adorned by one of the most spectacular travertine terraces called the Pink and White Terraces. They were the largest travertine terraces in the world, created by the deposition of minerals from the nearby hot water springs. So wonderful were these terraces that they were called the ‘eighth wonder of the natural world’ and were New Zealand's most famous tourist attraction.

On the morning of 10 June 1886, Mount Tarawera's three peaks erupted in a violent explosion that ripped through the center of Lake Rotomahana hurling tons of lakefloor sediment for miles around covering everything around with meters thick mud. The terraces were almost completely destroyed, along with several villages that were buried in mud. One of these villages, Te Wairoa, with its half-buried houses is now a tourist attraction.

Te Wairo was established in the late 1850s in a small valley near Lake Tarawera by Revered Seymore Spencer. Although it was a Maori village, Te Wairo was laid out in European style with a grid-based layout and houses along the streets, each having its own 100 square meter garden. By 1870, Te Wairo had become the starting point for expeditions to the pink-and-white terraces of Rotomahana, and tourism became an important industry for the town. At the time of the eruption, Te Waira was a thriving tourist town with several hotels and a population of around 140.

Not long after the eruption, Te Wairo began to draw visitors willing to brave the bridle track to the site. One of the hotels still had a couple of habitable rooms which the sightseers used during their visit to the “buried village”. A Maori meeting house called Hinemihi that sheltered villagers during the eruption was relocated in 1892 to Clandon Park as a garden building dedicated to William Onslow, 4th Earl of Onslow. By 1906, a coach and boat tour circuit was running from Rotorua through to Waimangu, Rotomahana, Lake Tarawera and past newly rebuilt tearooms and accommodation at Te Wairoa village, giving tourists a look at the remnants of the 1886 eruption.

In 1931, a Rotorua accountant, Reg Smith, bought the site of Te Wairoa and began excavating the buried structures. This continued for several generations of the Smith family until about a third of the village was excavated. The vast collection artifacts that they had unearthed is currently on display in a museum at the site.


Pink And White Terraces

The village was famously known for the mysterious Pink and White Terraces. These beautiful hot spring terraces were a major tourist attraction for reportedly being the largest silica sinter deposits on earth, attracting many visitors from overseas.

The terraces were once regarded as the eighth natural wonder of the world but were destroyed during the eruption along with the village of Te Wairoa. The terraces formed over the course of thousands of years, resembling giant staircases. The pink terrace was mainly used for bathing.

A research team recently rediscovery a part of the Pink and White Terraces after mapping the lake floor. The announcement of this monumental rediscovery in 2011 marked the 125th anniversary of Mt. Tarawera’s eruption in 1886.


Wander the geothermal wonders of Whakarewarewa Village

Te Puia and Whakarewarewa Village share access to the Whakarewarewa geothermal area. However, admission through Whakarewarewa Village offers something different. Visitors can experience a living Māori village within the geothermal area. The village includes homes, churches, burial grounds and a marae centre. Every day, village residents use the geothermal heat to cook, bathe and heat their homes. As part of the experience, you can learn how to cook food in boiling pools and steam vents.

You can explore the geothermal valley as you walk around the village. There is even a self-guided walk around the highly active area. The tour takes you around to boiling craters, hissing fumaroles and bright-coloured formations. Pohutu, the Southern Hemisphere's most active geyser, is nearly always Southern Hemisphere

Observe a unique way of life at the Whakarewarewa Māori Village


Pink & White Terraces

Before Mt Tarawera erupted on that terrifying night, the Pink and White Terraces on the shores of Lake Rotomahana near Rotorua were considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. The terraces were formed as water containing silica flowed from the boiling geysers at the top down the hillside. The water cooled and crystallised into the terraces and pools, forming giant staircases or waterfalls.

Hinemihi was the tribal meeting house of the Tuhourangi people of Te Wairoa. Tourists would pay one shilling for an evening of entertainment by the local Maori at the meeting house. It was often referred to as &ldquothe house with the golden eyes&rdquo as gold sovereigns took the place of paua shells in the eyes of the carvings.

Reginald and Violet Smith purchased the 12-acre freehold property in 1931. Reg, an accountant biked daily to his accountancy practice in Rotorua, while Vi renovated and reopened the Te Wairoa tearooms which had been closed for 20 years. With their sons Basil and Dudley, the family began excavating some of the 60 sites buried beneath rock, ash and mud.


Keeping It In The Family

The Te Wairoa River runs through the grounds

I didn’t know for the longest time that the Buried Village is privately owned. A couple by the name of Reg and Vi Smith bought the land and a little cottage on it in 1931 and began the task of excavating. In addition to this, Vi ran the tearooms.

A staff member dressed in period costume for an open day.

The family is into it’s 3rd generation now, still very much hands on with developing and preserving this award winning heritage site. Periodically they carry out excavation work as well.

It would take a good 1hr-1½hrs to go through the museum and grounds. Apart from what I have mentioned above the family have built depictions of a pioneers house, barracks and blacksmith’s to show how people lived at the time.

Buy your entry tickets here at Get Your Guide. If a tour is more to your liking this well-recommended full-day tour with a local naturalist guide is available on Viator. You get picked up from your accommodation and visit the Buried Village, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Valley, lakes and more. Entry costs are included.

As well, in-house tours are carried out regularly by guides in Victorian period costume, or you can hire a mozivision (a multi media tour guide) to carry round with you.


Buried Village of Te Wairoa

New Zealand’s most-visited archaeological site where stories of the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption come to life.

Stories of survival and resilience are told throughout Buried Village's museum exhibits and in more than a kilometre of heritage excavations. Wander through our beautiful park where the people of Te Wairoa lived before the eruption which includes Te Wairoa Stream and waterfall walk. Although described as peaceful and tranquil, the regenerating forest hides the scars of one of New Zealand&rsquos deadliest disasters.

Violent and unexpected, the volcanic eruption of Mt Tarawera on 10 June 1886 bombarded the peaceful village of Te Wairoa, ending more than 150 lives and destroying the eighth Natural Wonder of the World, the Pink and White Terraces.

Run by four generations of the Smith Family for nearly 90 years, Buried Village is an iconic tourist destination and New Zealand&rsquos most-visited archaeological site. You can choose from a self-guided experience or ask our friendly team for guided tour times. There's even a treasure trail for the young and young at heart.

Enjoy a delicious bite to eat in the licensed café to finish off your experience by checking out the gift store, which has something for everyone.


The Museum of Te Wairoa

Luckily we just got to the museum at the start of a guided museum tour which was much more informative that self-guiding. The stories told by a local Maori were fascinating and far more emotional that the visit would have been if we had just wandered around the museum by ourselves. There were stories of the Te Wairoa village, the voyages that were made to the Pink and White Terraces, and all about the terrible night of the eruption that destroyed everything.

There are archaeological displays, and many artifacts in the museum that have been recovered from houses in the village Te Wairoa&rsquos hotel, the Rotomahana Hotel.


Wairere Falls – Buried Village of Te Wairoa

The beautiful Wairere Falls are located inside of the Buried Village of Te Wairoa along the scenic walking trails. Walk through the lush, native bush and look out over the remote volcanic scenery. The steps down to the falls can be a bit challenging, so plan on wearing sturdy walking shoes. Water from Wairere Falls drops 30 metres over the Waitoharuru Cliffs.

If the trek down to the falls proves a bit too much, you can still gain a magnificent view of Lake Tarawera by way of the Waitoharuru Valley Lookout.

Plan for around 20 minutes on the trails.

History of the Buried Village of Te Wairoa

The Buried Village of Te Wairoa is one of the most visited, award-winning historical attractions in New Zealand. Te Wairoa was once a flourishing tourist town, containing what, at that time, was considered the eighth wonder of the world the Pink and White Terraces. On June 10, 1886, both the village and famous terraces were covered in hot ash and mud from the eruption of Mt. Tarawera and the following explosion of Lake Rotomahana. These catastrophic events took the lives of approximately 153 people.

Out of the ashes came forth some of the most beautiful bush due to the mineral-rich soil. With the destruction of the terraces came many visitors curious about the destruction left behind. And thus, the humble beginnings of the Buried Village of Te Wairoa.


Watch the video: Uncovering the Buried Village of Te Wairoa New Zealand