Survey fixes locations of New Zealand's lost Pink and White Terraces

Researchers believe they have discovered the location of New Zealand's famed Pink and White Terraces which disappeared 131 years ago

Researchers believe they have discovered the location of New Zealand's famed Pink and White Terraces which disappeared 131 years ago in a gigantic volcanic eruption.

The location of New Zealand's famed Pink and White Terraces is the subject of a new scientific survey by Rex Bunn and Sascha Nolden, and published in the Journal of the Royal Society.

The research paper reports the findings of the Pink, Black and White Terraces locations of old Lake Rotomahana. This follows the assumed loss of New Zealand’s eighth wonder of the world during the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption.

Researchers Rex Bunn and Dr Sascha Nolden announced their findings in the paper Forensic cartography with Hochstetter’s 1859 Pink and White Terraces survey: Te Otukapuarangi and Te Tarata; on the 131st anniversary of the eruption on 9-10 June 1886.

The three terrace spring locations have been plotted on land, and are not under the lake as previously imagined by 19th century colonists and accepted by some later researchers. The coordinates for the spring platforms, Te Otukapuarangi, Te Tuhi’s Spring and Te Tarata appear to lie 10-15 meters underground, around the shores of the new Lake Rotomahana, a water-body filling the eruption crater and some 10 times the area and depth of the original lake.

The survey research was driven by Nolden’s 2010 discovery in Switzerland of the forgotten 1859 New Zealand diaries of 19th century geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter (1829-1884). One diary contained survey bearings for Lake Rotomahana and the terraces. Nolden furnished and translated the diary, enabling Bunn to reverse engineer the diary data, resect the bearings, georeference the vanished lake and so plot the lost terrace locations.

Having established the lost terrace locations, the authors recommend a full archaeological site investigation, in conjunction with the traditional landowners - the Tuhourangi Tribal Authority, with whom the authors have been liaising.

Final proof of the terraces’ survival may be obtained via imaging (ground penetrating radar) technology and core-drilling. Core samples of terrace material could then be chemically analysed and compared to existing analyses of terrace samples, providing conclusive evidence whether or not the terraces survived the eruption. The authors anticipate this will lead to excavation of the sites with the ultimate goal of returning these iconic historical sites to the New Zealand landscape for the enjoyment of all.

Interestingly, the only surviving part of the old lake is the shoreline between the locations of the Pink and White Terraces. This ~750m stretch of the old shore lies under the new lake shore and along the 1886 eruption crater edge. The authors propose it be listed on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero as an iconic New Zealand cultural and heritage site.

BACKGROUND: The Pink and White Terraces

In 1886, the Pink and White Terraces were destroyed when Mt Tarawera erupted, devastating most of the surrounding landscape, and killing more than 150 people. 

As well as expanding the lake and covering the terraces, the eruption buried several villages, including Te Wairoa - now named The Buried Village. More information on the Pink and White Terraces

NOTES TO PUBLISHERS: Editorial Acknowledgements

Link to paper at:

Acknowledgement: ‘This article was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand on 7th June 2017, available online: .’

The authors are pleased to be able to supply limited-release, copyright-protected illustrations for publication with this press release under a gratis licence. A sample, lo-res image of Hochstetter’s method-of-squares map is attached. Note any images supplied are courtesy of the authors. Use of the image implies your acceptance of the conditions below:

  1. The final part of the file name (in brackets) must appear in the image caption credit line or similar. Example: (Nolden & Nolden 2013 HCB 3.5.10)
  2. As soon as practicable after publication, two copies of the published article are sent bypost/courier to the Corresponding author or submitted in electronic form by email to:
  3. Postal address:  Rex Bunn - 32 Okareka Loop Rd, Rotorua RD5 3076, New Zealand