On June 10th 1886 Mt Tarawera erupted along a line of craters that extended sixteen kilometres and the space of a few hours the nearby village of Te Wairoa and the world famous Pink and White Terraces were covered in over a metre of volcanic mud and ash.
The death toll for the area was believed to have been as high as 153 – Te Wairoa at the time was a bustling village with two tourist hotels serving visitors to the Pink and White Terraces, two stores, a school, a blacksmith and a bakery. By the end of the day not a single village house was left standing.
Today the site of Te Wairoa consists of several hectares of fields within which the visitor can walk amongst the excavated remains on the village. There is also a lovely river walk and a musuem dedicated to the Maori and Victorian artefacts recovered from the site. The following are a few of the photos which I took during a visit in 2015.
Some of the displays from the museum
The unexcavated remains of two of the many houses in the area.
The above is the house of Tuhoto, a 100yr old tohunga (tribal priest) who bore the brunt of the blame for the disaster. He had openly condemned the people for their decadent lifestyle and had predicted that disaster would fall on the community. When the mountain exploded, he like so many was buried in his hut and local Maori were so angry they refused to dig him out. He was eventually rescued by the Europeans (four days later) but died not long after in a sanitorium.
The Coromandel is a place rich in Maori history, the most obvious archaeological site are the many pa found on the coastal headlands. The following are a few photos taken during a weekend in the coastal township of Whitianga.
Before we get to the photos, it is probably necessary for me to give you a brief explanation on what a Pa is, particularly for those of you who are not familiar with the term. The word ‘pa’ can refer to any Maori settlement, defended or otherwise, but most commonly it is used to refer to a type of site known as a hillfort – fortified settlements with palisades and defensive terraces. The majority of pa sites are found in the North Island from Lake Taupo northwards – over 5000 have been recorded to date. You can read more about Pa here.
The two Pa mentioned in the title of this blog are the Hereheretaura Pa and Whitianga Rock – both were Ngati Hei strongholds, although the latter suffered during a raid by a war party of Ngai te Rangi. The reserve where Hereheretaura Pa can be found is at the southern end of Hahei Beach is one of two pa in the reserve. The other – Hahei Pa – is on the ridge above the track (seen below) but with minimal defensive earthworks unlike Hereheretaura Pa.
Whitianga Rock is on the opposite side of the estuary from Whitianga, a short ferry ride across from town takes you to the start point for a walk around the site. The site is positioned on a thin finger of land jutting into the estuary harbour with steep cliffs on three sides. By the time Captain James Cook arrived in 1769 the site had already been abandoned, even so it impressed Cook enough for him to state;
“A little with[in] the entrance of the river on the East side is a high point or peninsula jutting out into the River on which are the remains of one of their Fortified towns, the Situation is such that the best Engineer in Europe could not have choose’d a better for a small number of men to defend themselves against a greater, it is strong by nature and made more so by Art”.
Archaeology, History and a little bit of time travel…