The Buried Village of Te Wairoa – Dark Tourism in New Zealand

On June 10, 1889, New Zealand’s deadliest volcanic eruption devastated the surrounding landscape and killed over 120 people.

The villagers around Mount Tarawera on the on North Island did not stand a chance as boiling mud and hot springs tore through their settlements at the base of the volcano.

The village of Te Wairoa was completely destroyed, buried in volcanic mud.

Now, over 130 years later, the site is open to the public. Tourists can visit the buried village of Te Wairoa, where some areas of the submerged site have been excavated.

History of Te Wairoa Village

Image: Bgabel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The village of Te Wairoa was established in 1848 by the Revd Seymour Mills Spencer, a Christian missionary spreading the word of God to the local Māori population.

It was designed as a model European village and was a place where visitors would stay en route to visiting the Pink and White Terraces, (a natural wonder of New Zealand and once thought to be the largest silica sinter deposits on earth).

The village was located not far from the shore of Lake Tarawera, and for 45 years grew to become a bustling little pioneer village, with a thriving community that even had a meeting hall.

The 1889 Mount Tarawera Eruption

Image: Carl Lindberg / CC BY-SA

Almost all of Te Wairoa village was consumed by the volcanic fallout. Buildings were instantly buried and the hot ash and mud that formed after the lava mixed with water killed anyone that could not escape its path.

Amazingly, one building did escape destruction however; the aforementioned meeting hall.

Known as the Hinemihi in Māori, it was positioned on a higher section of land. The few villagers that made it inside to take shelter also survived.

The life of the hall continues to this day. In 1891 it was purchased for £50 and transported to England by the 4th Earl of Onslow to be used as an ornamental garden building. The former Hinemihi has sat proudly in Surrey’s Clandon Park, ever since.

Up until recently, it was thought that the Pink and White Terraces were also obliterated in the eruption.

The strange geological system was one of New Zealand’s most significant tourist sights during the 19th century. However, the reshaped landscape after Mount Tarawera rained its fury, left no trace of the silica, two-toned wonder.

For years some believed that the terrace remains may exist within the depths of the crater lake. A theory proved true in 2011 after a team of researchers mapped the lake floor and discovered a part of the Pink Terraces at over 60 feet depth.

Where is the Buried Village of Te Wairoa?

  • Address: 1180 Tarawera Road, Rotorua 3076, New Zealand
  • Directions: The site is located 14 kilometers southeast of Rotorua on Tarawera Road
  • Opening times: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Adult Admission: 27 NZD,
  • Under 15s: 8 NZD.

Visiting the Buried Village of Te Wairoa Today

Image: Symac / CC BY-SA

Sixty years after the eruption of Tarawera, the land in and around Te Wairoa was purchased and excavation began in efforts to find the lost village.

The search was successful, and today visitors can explore the 12-acre site which includes some of the ruins of the excavated village, an informative museum, and a life-size reconstruction of a pioneer-era cottage.

Recovered relics are on display in the museum, with artifacts from the disaster site and other historical items. It also contains a detailed history of the eruption and of the Pink and White Terraces.

A complimentary 30 minute-long guided tour can also be requested.

Featured Image: James Shook at en.wikipedia / CC BY 2.5

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