Life arises from the ashes of tragedy

Back in the day, in the times of the ‘Grand Tour’ – think late 1800’s when women wore heavy crinoline skirts everywhere, our little corner of the world was well and truly on the Victorian bucket list.  Many folks risk life and limb just to get here, let alone the dangers of setting out into a recently discovered colony to see the marvel that was the 8th wonder of the world.  The pink and white terraces.

I say ‘was’ because you can’t see them anymore. Which is a real shame because by all accounts they were beautiful.  These wonderful stepped terraces had been formed over centuries by mineral rich waters trickling down the side of a volcano – Mount Tarawera.  You can’t see them anymore because they are buried in mud.

Te Wairoa:  A model village
Te Wairoa: A model village
Before the calamity

Our recent road trip brought us into the heart of this area and aside from the lure of the terraces, I can just imagine what made people settle there.  It is such a beautiful area.  A model village, called Te Wairoa was established at the foot of the mountain by an Christian missionary, and was made up of newly immigrated Europeans and local Maori and together they had embraced the influx of tourists, as they still do today, in this incredible region.

The total devastation, a village buried under a blanket of volcanic debris.
The total devastation, a village buried under a blanket of volcanic debris.
You can make out the fence line to the left of the image

The missionary, Rev Seymour Spencer, did the done thing when he established the community and fenced off each plot of land with fence posts cut from Poplar trees, in nice orderly lines.  And for 40 years the community flourished, as tourists came and went, to see the pink and white terraces at the foot of Mount Tarawera.

It is hard to imagine what the people went through that night
It is hard to imagine what the people went through that night. Children’s toys are among the items that have been unearthed.

However on the night of June 10 1886, tragedy struck and to this day it is still thought of as one of our nation’s greatest natural disasters. It wasn’t without warning, there had been earthquakes and the levels of the lake had risen and fallen with what seemed to be no rhyme or reason.  And a group of tourists being ferried to the terraces by local Maori, all saw a phantom waka – a war canoe, paddled by warriors and when the guide called out to them it just disappeared.  They took this to be an omen, but didn’t know what for.

As can be seen in this Maori storehouse, the village had been completely overwhelmed.
As can be seen in this Maori storehouse, the village had been completely overwhelmed.

Mount Tarawera erupted.  And for four hours rock, ash and boiling mud was thrown upon the village with no mercy.    The pink and white terraces were lost, but more tragic was the community of Te Wairoa was buried in 2 metres of volcanic material.  Many people lost their lives that night, around 150, but there may have been many more.

You can visit the site today, as like Pompeii, the village is being brought back into the light and their stories are told as the thick layers of mud are dug away.  We went there and it leaves you with such a sombre feeling as you imagine the terror that must have occurred in that place that night.

But among the floor plans of buildings that were once lived in by lively characters, laid out for us to see, and recreated whares (Maori homes) you couldn’t help notice life re-emerging.   It was the trees.

And we can see today just where neighbours were joined
And we can see today just where neighbours were joined

Those Poplar wood posts pounded into the earth in 1852 as the cornerstones of what was to be an ideal community in a new world, found themselves buried within an inch of their height in rich, fertile, volcanic material, and the seemingly impossible occurred.  Those lumber posts started to grow, and for the next 126 years they grew into the most magnificent fully grown 40 metre Poplar trees.  However in 2010 they began to fall, and by 2012 the sad decision was made to remove them all, for the sake of safety.

There is always the hope of new life
There is always the hope of new life to come from what appears to be lost.

During our visit, less than three years later, we were fascinated to see new growth emerging from the desolate stumps left to line the paths that marked out the lives of a once vibrant community.  So despite the many years that have passed there is a tangible link back through time, thanks to the incredible resilience of nature.

You can find out more about The Buried Village >HERE<

Come again soon – I have actually been in the garden, wahoo!

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

13 thoughts on “Life arises from the ashes of tragedy

    1. Hi Charlotte. Nature is pretty awesome in it’s destruction but also in it’s ability to rejuvenate. It was definitely a ‘wow’ kind of a place.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  1. I find it so tragic that not only was there loss of life in the eruption, but those beautiful terraces were destroyed … what a shame. It is an amazing place and a must for visitors to NZ.

    1. Hi Julie. The thing that sticks with me the most is the mothers account of the children succumbing to eruption, and then seeing their personal items in the museum caked in mud. It is so sad. But definitely a must to see.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

  2. Thanks for bringing both the steps and subsequent events to our attention. An amazing piece of history!

    I can’t help marvel at the resilience of the trees.

    1. Hi Helen. It is a pretty incredible place, I’m glad they have opened this to the public, because history should never be forgotten. Those trees are amazing.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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