Mount Tarawera is a volcanic mountain located 24 kilometres southeast of Rotorua in the North Island of New Zealand. It is a series of rhyolite domes which was fissured down the middle by a basaltic eruption in 1886. The main peaks include Tarawera Peak and Wahanga Peak. The summit is at 1111 metres. The crater of the volcano is a 6 kilometre-long chasm running northeast-southwest.
The volcano is surrounded by a series of small lakes, many of which were created or drastically altered in the 1886 eruption. These lakes include Lakes Tarawera, Rotomahana, Rerewhakaaitu, Okataina, Okareka, Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Rotokakahi (Green Lake). The Tarawera River runs northeastwards across the northern flank of the mountain from Lake Tarawera.
The 1886 eruption
Just after midnight on the morning of June 10, 1886 a series of small earthquakes were felt in the Rotorua area. At 1:30am a larger earthquake was felt and followed by the sound of an explosion. By 2:30am Mount Tarawera's three peaks had erupted blasting three distinct columns of smoke and ash thousands of meters into the sky. At 3:30am the bed of Lake Rotomahana blew out.
The eruption was heard as far way as Blenheim and the effects of the ash in the air were observed as far south as Christchurch, over 800 km south. In Auckland the sound of the eruption and the flashing sky was thought by some to be an attack by a Russian warship.
The eruption is believed to have killed 153 people, although it is possible that many more people died. The eruption also destroyed the Pink and White Terraces and buried the Maori village of Te Wairoa. Many of the lakes surrounding the mountain had their shapes and areas dramatically altered.
The phantom canoe
One pervasive legend of the 1886 eruption is that of the phantom canoe. Nine days before the eruption, a boat full of tourists returning from the Terraces saw what appeared to be a war canoe approach their boat, only to disappear several hundred metres from them. Though sceptics maintained that it was a freak reflection seen on the mist, tribal elders at Te Wairoa claimed that it was a Waka Wairua (spirit canoe) and was a portent of doom.
It has been suggested that the waka was actually a freak wave on the water, caused by seismic activity below the lake, but locals still believe that a future eruption will be signalled by the reappearance of the canoe.
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