Before the tragic earthquake in Christchurch earlier this year, it was New Zealand’s biggest natural disaster.
153 people estimated buried under mud, volcanic ash and falling rock spewing forth from the erupting Mt Terewaka on 10th June 1886.
No wonder the Kiwis are the pioneers of activities that scare the wits out of you. They are used to living on the edge. A volatile land of tremors, shakes and sleeping volcanoes waiting to wake up violently.
The Explosion of Mt Terewaka
On that fateful night over a century ago, one did, burying whole villages and destroying the spectacular pink and white terraces, a natural wonder of the world and a drawcard for tourists far and wide to come bathe in the therapeutic goodness of the geothermal waters.
An attraction that brought much wealth to the people in the area and one that had me almost crying as to what I had missed out on witnessing. The sketches were enough to reveal their extraordinary beauty.
The Buried Village
The story is fascinating as it unfolds and is told to you by a knowledgeable and passionate guide as she walks you through the Buried Village sharing with you stories from that time and her own from her Maori and Scottish culture.
“They called us the black and white minstrels,” she told us as she spoke of her Maori father and Scottish mother.
Her pale skin denoting who she most took after, her wide cheekbones and structure were a gift from her father and the way that she can tell anyone in New Zealand who has Maori blood, no matter their skin-color.
How lucky that she has genetic history of such cultural richness I thought, perhaps the best of both worlds, and her kind and gentle spirit spoke of this as being true.
After the volcanic eruption, the town, Te Wairoa, was left covered in ash and mud, others totally wiped out. Soon people returned to the area to see the destruction that the volcano left behind.
A tea house opened up where the village once stood, which sometime later closed down.
Inn 1931, 20 years after the tea room doors had closed, the Smith Family reopened them. They cleared the area and bean excavating major sites of the vanished village, developing the Buried Village and creating a time capsule of life in pioneer New Zealand.
A museum showcasing the story, replicas of the beautiful terraces, and relics of collections dug up stands at the entrance to the village.
Our guide walked us through the village showing us the Maori style small houses, places where homes were buried and the sites where the old hotel and stores of the tourist village once stood.
Out of respect to the Maori culture that lived there, none of the places excavated are where any person lost a life.
She shared stories with us of Guide Sophia, a respected Maori woman who used to take the tourists to the pink and white terraces and who became a heroine on the night rescuing 62 people, sheltering them in her traditional home; and the Tohunga, the Maori priest, who warned that the village and its people would soon become overwhelmed as a result of their demise into wealth and the debauchery that he saw coming with it.
To end the tour, we took a lovely walk down and up some steep steps, through the forest along a stream to a lovely waterfall.
It was hard to imagine that the forest covering the valley stretched before us was totally buried under volcanic ash and mud over 100 years ago. We had views out across the valley to where the monster Mt Terewaka still stands sleeping.
The whole top of the mountain is now missing thanks to its ferocious rant at the village people who had lost their way.