Hailed as the eighth wonder of the world, the Pink and White Terraces on the shores of Lake Rotomahana near Tarawera, Rotorua, were, for a time, the country’s premier tourist attraction.
For over a thousand years water had been spilling from geysers above Lake Rotomahana. The water left thick pink and white silica deposits that formed terraces, enclosing pools of silky clear water that left the skin feeling soft and refreshed.
The White Terraces, known to the Maori people as Te Tarata or the tattooed rock, faced north at the end of the lake.Their white appearance was attributed to bleaching effects of the sun. With a drop of forty metres, they covered an area of 3 hectares and descended over approximately 50 layers.
Prettiest and most popular, the Pink Terraces or Otukapuarangi, the fountain of the clouded sky, were about two thirds of the way down the lake, on the western shore, facing south east.Their pink colour was said be caused by the presence of algae and by the absence of sun. The Pink and white terraces were 30 metres high. At the top the terraces covered an area of 75–100 metres, while the lowest were about 27 metres wide.
Reaching the terraces involved quite a journey. In Auckland, the travellers boarded a steamer and sailed to the port of Tauranga. From there they took a 70 kilometre coach over the rugged hills to Rotorua. After a night’s rest they took the coach again to Te Wairoa, 17 kilometres to the south. Here they rested again. The following morning a local Maori guide led them down through the bush to Lake Tarawera where they were ferried by canoe to a narrow isthmus on the other side. The travellers crossed the isthmus on foot while the specially constructed canoe was dismantled and carried across. On the shores of Lake Rotomahana it was reassembled and its passengers re-embarked for the breathtaking trip up to the terraces. There they soaked in the pools or trudged up the hillsides for picture and even photo opportunities.
The terraces were a gold mine for the people of Te Wairoa. Pakeha businesses, particularly the hotels, boomed. The tangata whenua, the Tuhourangi people, flourished from the tourist trade, providing cultural entertainment, transport and guiding services as well as photo opportunities. Such was their prosperity, that the paua shell eyes in the carvings of the ancestral figures in their meeting house, Hinemihi, were replaced with gold sovereigns.
But the golden days of Te Wairoa were not to last.