The White Terrace

Way back in October my post titled The Unquiet Earth featured the words of J. A. Froude who was exploring New Zealand’s geothermal region around Ohinemutu and Rotorua in 1885. The poor man has been left in limbo too long and historic events of this week prompt me to take up his story where he left off.

T_Ohinemutu

Ohinemutu was so novel a scene that I could have stayed there indefinitely, and have found something every day new and entertaining to look at …. but our immediate business was to visit the famous [Pink and White] Terraces, the eighth wonder of the world.

The Terraces themselves were twenty-four miles off. We were to drive first through the mountains to a native village which had once been a famous missionary station, called Wairoa. There we were to sleep at an establishment affiliated to the Lake Hotel, and the next day a native boat would take us across Tarawera Lake, a piece of water as large as Rotorua, at the extremity of which the miracle of nature was to be found.

Lake Tarawera from Wairoa by Burton Bros studio of Dunedin. Te Papa collection

Lake Tarawera from Wairoa with the long ridge of Mount Tarawera in the background.

Twenty four miles in a horse-drawn vehicle took up most of the day but, eventually – There stood Wairoa and its inhabitants. It was late afternoon. The people were all out loafing and lying about.

T_McRae's

“McRae’s Hotel”, or more correctly the Rotomahana Hotel, at Wairoa. Joseph McRae is standing at right with hand on hip.

In the morning we had to start early, for we had a long day’s work cut out for us. We were on foot at seven.

A one hour journey across Lake Tarawera in an open rowing boat followed. Then, led by their guide Kate and her apprentice Mari, a half mile walk on a bush track brought them to – the White Terrace in all its strangeness; a crystal staircase, glittering and stainless as if it were ice, spreading out like an open fan from a point above us on the hillside, and projecting at the bottom into a lake, where it was perhaps two hundred yards wide. The summit was concealed behind the volumes of steam rising out of the boiling fountain, from which the siliceous stream proceeded.T_white2

The stairs were about twenty in number, the height of each being six or seven feet. The floors dividing them were horizontal, as if laid out with a spirit level. They were of uneven breadth; twenty, thirty, fifty feet, or even more; each step down being always perpendicular, and all forming arcs or a circle of which the crater was the centre.

T_white top

We walked, or rather waded, upwards to the boiling pool …. It was about sixty feet across, and was of unknown depth. The heat was too intense to allow us to approach the edge, and we could see little, from the dense clouds of steam which lay upon it. We were more fortunate afterwards at the crater of the second terrace.

A fixed number of minutes is allotted for each of the ‘sights’. ….. We were dragged off the White Terrace in spite of ourselves, but soon forgot it in the many and various wonders which were waiting for us.

to be continued on Thursday…..

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The Unquiet Earth

New Zealand, 1885. English historian J.A. Froude follows a popular tourist route to the North Island’s thermal region.

…..we saw in the distance a blue, singular range of mountains, while immediately underneath us, a thousand feet down, stretched a long, greenish lake with an island in the middle of it, and a cluster of white houses six miles off standing on the shore. The lake was Rotorua; the white houses were Ohinemutu, the end of our immediate journey.

Rotorua_Ohine

As we drew nearer to our destination both Ohinemutu and the district touching it seemed to be on fire. Columns of what appeared to be smoke were rising out of the Ti-tree bush, from the lake shore, and from the ditches by the roadside. We should have found the lake itself lukewarm if we could have dipped our hands in the water.

The smoke which we had seen was steam rising from boiling springs – alkaline, siliceous, sulphuretted, and violently acid – not confined, too, exactly to the same spot, but bursting out where they please through the crust of the soil. You walk one day over firm ground, where the next you find a bubbling hole, into which if you unwarily step, your foot will be of no further service to you. These springs extend for many miles; they are in the island on the lake; they must be under the lake itself to account for its temperature. Across the water among the trees a few miles off, a tall column of steam ascends, as if from an engine. It arises from a gorge where a sulphurous and foul smelling liquid ….. bubbles and boils and spouts its filthy mud eternally. I have no taste for horrors, and did not visit this foul place, which they call Tikiteri.

Rotorua_Tikitere

The native settlement [Whakarewarewa] was at one time very large, and must have been one of the most important in New Zealand. It owed its origins doubtless to these springs, not from any superstitious reason, but for the practical uses to which the Maori apply them.

Rotorua_Whaka

They cook their cray-fish and white-fish, which they catch in the lake, in them; they boil their cabbage, they wash their clothes in them, and they wash themselves.

Rotorua_cooking

Text source: ‘Oceana, the tempestuous voyage of J.A. Froude, 1884 & 1885.’ Ed. Geoffrey Blainey. 1985.
Images from postcards in my collection.