A rude awaking—An enraged Amazon—"Too hot'' for
the thief—We start for the Terraces—Lake Tarawera—A
merry boat's-crew—The Devil's Rock—Native delicacies
—The landing-place—First view of the Terraces—
Beauty indescribable—The great basin empty—Pluto's
foghorn—The majesty of nature—Wonder upon wonder —The mud
cones—Devil's Hole—The Porridge-Pot— Devil's Wife—Poor
the matter? we hurriedly exclaim. It is a little past midnight. The room is
dark, as the moon is just now obscured by a passing
Did anybody wake
me? I vow I felt some one pulling at the bed? And yet
there is apparently nothing stirring in the room.
What now? The bed is violently tossed to and fro. The walls seem dancing
on all sides. The floor sways and creaks, and we
hear the crash of falling crockery below. Cocks are
crowing. Dogs are barking and howling. And then all again
is still. It is very mysterious.
sensation creeps over us. And then it begins to dawn upon
our dumbfoundered senses that we have just experienced an
earthquake. It was a very sharp one, too, while it lasted.
We. felt, in addition to the big shock, no less than seven
other tremors, or distinct quakes, during the night.
Nothing more forcibly or vividly brought home to us the
nature of the country we were now in. The eerie feeling
produced by the shock does not readily pass away. One lies
in a state of intense expectancy, waiting for the next
development. I was not frightened; but I, as well as
others, got a severe headache. This must have come, I
think, from nervous tension. We were glad when sunrise
awoke us from a troubled sleep; and you may be sure there
was an animated interchange of what we thought and how we felt, while
we discussed our morning meal.
A terrific row
now, outside! Is it another earthquake?—a murder?—a rising
of the natives? What can it be? We rush to the verandah,
and there, in front of the assembled clan, a stalwart
female paces to and fro, literally foaming with
rage and bristling with electric energy, as she denunciates some one in
voluble Maori commination. What an Amazon! How she
gesticulates! She clenches her fist, and strikes it with a
whack into the palm of her other hand. She walks to and
fro with short angry steps, like a savage treading a
war measure;—she stamps her foot like an angry
charger chafing at restraint. What a torrent of
words!—what a shrill clamour! Can this be the gentle Kate,
our dibonnaire and soft-voiced guide, with whom we were so
favourably impressed yesternight?
It was indeed
Kate; and when we learned the cause of her fierce indignation we excused her
in our hearts at once. The fact was, Kate had just
discovered that one of the interesting youths of
the hamlet had stolen her watch from her tent, and, having
a shrewd suspicion as to the identity of the culprit, she
was piling the agony on his head and surely never was
there such an oration as that just so vehemently declaimed
by this roused Pythoness.
interjections, exclamations, soothing entreaties, and wild outcries, the
torrent of her invective went on, until in sheer physical exhaustion
she was compelled to pause; and then, turning to
our party, she explained her loss to us in English, and
ever and anon turned round to still further lash with her
scorpion tongue the supposed thief, who cowered before her
like a guilty thing.
"My word!" says
McRae. "If Kate does not get her watch back, I pity the
whole tribe of them. She rules the roost here when she
The thief seemed
to think he had made a bad job of it too; for by-and-by
Kate found the watch restored to its wonted position at
the head of her bed, and she soon regained her accustomed
In the meantime,
however, she had certainly altered our first impressions,
and revealed to us an unsuspected phase in her curiously
Kate is really a
curiosity. She is a half-blood —her father having been a
Scotchman. She was, I believe, educated for several years
at a school in Auckland, but preferred the free
unconventional life of the whare and the bush. At times she could be
conveniently deaf. She professes a very outspoken contempt for blue
ribbonism, and can put herself outside a sample of whisky with as much
nonchalance as apparent gusto. Not that she is intemperate ; far from it. We
found her exceedingly attentive and obliging, and she was particularly nice
in her behaviour to one old lady of the party, who but for Kate's strong
guiding arm would have fared badly during the long day's sight-seeing. Kate
is proud of her Scotch descent, and never fails to put in her claim to
Caledonian nationality. Altogether, we found her an amusing study. Sophia,
the other accredited guide, we did not see at all. She had gone away on a
visit to some other settlement.
I would fain
record my impressions of the Terraces. I know they have
been done to death. I am aware that words are all too
feeble to give a just estimate of their many-sided
wondrous beauty. And yet they so haunt my imagination!
They so appeal to my inner consciousness that I must
commit my thoughts about them to paper, and
perchance let my friends share with me, in some measure,
the keen pleasure of the retrospection.
We were fortunate in the weather. It was a
glorious morning when we started. The sun lit up
the long blue arm of Lake Tarawera, on which we gazed from
the top of the steep descent, down which we scrambled and
jumped all full of robust gaiety and pleasurable
expectancy. Marshalled by Kate, we crowd into the large
whaleboat. There are eleven of us tourists, six brawny
rowers, one crouching native woman and Kate. Altogether
nineteen of a party. With a cheery cry, the Maoris
dip their oars into the blue lake; and to the
accompaniment of song and chorus and jest, they pull
strongly and steadily for the open lake, and soon before a
spanking breeze we are scudding merrily along.
"What a day we're having!" One excitable
punster of our party, in the exuberance of his delight, and anxious
to show his appreciation of a good chorus that has just
been sung, tosses his hat high in air; and, of course, it
at once becomes a sport for the breezes, sails away to
leeward, and soon floats upon the tiny billows.
"Man overboard!" we yell. "'Bout ship!
Man the lifeboat!" The Maoris grin, the ladies
squeal, the gentlemen roar, and Kate claps her hands and
yells out, "A fine! a fine! A bottle of whisky for the
men!" For the moment we might have pardonably been
mistaken for a small private lunatic asylum out for a
Away we go in pursuit of the hat. We have to
haul down the sail, and we lose ten minutes; but
under the promise of the "Barley Bree," the rowers strain
at the oars, and soon the hat is restored to the bereaved
On again we go. What a
beautiful expanse ! What a vivid green on the steep precipitous banks !
Beautiful coves indent the coast, with here and there a fringe of sandy
beach. Some giant sentinels of gray pumice stand out in lonely isolation
from the steep point of yonder rounded hill. The truncated cone of Mount
Tarawera stands up black against, us yonder; while Mount Edgecombe, a very
Saul amongst the others, rears his towering crest far, far away, his base
being lost in the curve of distance.
We pass the Devil's Rock, on which it was
customary formerly to deposit some offering to propitiate "Taipo" (the
Maori equivalent for Satan) into giving the votary a fair
wind; the offering being flowers, twigs of trees, fruit,
fish, &c. Kate suggests that the white folks generally put
pennies on the rock now instead of twigs ; but the
surroundings, not being favourable to the growth of a
superstitious credulity, we ignore the possibility of
satanic interference in our affairs, and defy "the devil
and all his works."
We pull in now to a native settlement, where for
sundry white coin we procure two kits of black
grewsome-looking fresh-water prawns and a kit of very
Turning a point, with a solitary shag sitting
reflectively on a partly-submerged tree-trunk, we
enter another long arm or gulf, and find it terminates in a marshy flat,
with a few huts dumped down promiscuously on the rising
ground at the back, and a strong running creek bisecting
the level delta ; and on either side white cliffs, draped
in part with ferns, and with steam rising up from
hot springs at their base. On ahead, amid burnt-
looking bleak hummocks, we see more steam clouds, and we are informed,
"There lie the Terraces!"
The dream of years is about to be realized.
Hastily disembarking, leaving the weaker and aged
members of the party to be poled up the swift creek in
canoes, we put on our sand-shoes, tramp along in Indian
file through the tall manukau scrub. Kate's stalwart
figure leads the way, with free swinging gait and elastic
After a walk through the bracken of about a
mile, we top a ridge, and at our feet lies the wonder of the world
that has brought us so far. In the hollow flows the swift
clear stream, up which we see the Maoris poling the
canoes, with our friends seated very comfortably therein.
On the left glistens the cold lake, steely and still. On
the right gleams Rotomahana, the hot lake, with its
sedgy shallows, its reeking, steaming margin, its two
floating islands, and its winged hosts of waterfowl.
Right in front, spread out like a snowy cloud
dropped from the heavens—rising to its fleecy
frosted source, in the black, burnt bosom of the
hill—billowing over in countless crested cascades of
alabaster-like purity and marble whiteness ; by terraced
gradations, each one a gemmed chalice or fretted basin of
purest white, the famous terraces of Rotomahana confront
We plod over a slushy courtyard as it were, and
then reverently and softly, as if in the precincts of
a sacred shrine, a silence having settled on our
whole party, we mount those pearly stairs of exceeding loveliness.
Each fresh step is a new
revelation. We look above; all is a glistening-, glowing mass of unearthly
brilliancy. We look down—and who may describe the ineffable beauty of those
translucent basins of opaline-tinted water? The blue is like nothing else,
"in the heavens above, or the earth beneath." To what, then, can it be
likened? It is a colour unique—sui generis—never again to be forgotten.
Lapis lazuli is muddy before it. Opal, with its iridescence, gleams not so
perfectly soft and lovely. The azure vault of heaven itself has not the
dainty delicacy of that pearly tint. It is, in a word, exceeding beautiful ;
and it must be seen to be understood. No man can describe it adequately.
Nay, not even Ruskin, master though he be, could fitly picture it. And there
is not one or two, but tens and twenties of these chaliced cups. The saucers
of the gods, surely, these? The tea service of the Grecian goddesses? Can
you not fancy Venus reposing on yonder crystalline couch, with its tracery
of marble fretwork, its pearly lace woven by fairy fingers, dipping her
dainty lips to sip the liquid gems that gleam so soft under the sunbeams?
Bah! what need for metaphor? As I recall the scene I feel inclined to throw
down the pen, and feel how utterly all endeavour must fail to reproduce the
picture in words.
With a north-east wind blowing, we were
fortunate enough to behold the White Terrace in one
of the rare intervals, when the boiling fount (the origin
of all this pearly overflow) was empty and dry. This
peculiarity is another of the mysteries of the place. Why the subterranean
springs should have electric affinities for particular winds, may be known
to Pan ; the fauns and elves and naiads and fairies, may know all about it,
but mortals cannot explain it. The fact remains—the vast cavity at the top
was empty. We could walk down its frosted steeps, and gaze into the very
throat of the great geyser itself. The sun had licked dry the steps of the
terraces, and the whiteness was almost too intense for the human eye. To
peer underneath the curling lip of some of the frosted billows of stone was
a relief, and in the semi-shade—what fresh revelations of beauty? Pearly
globules, clusters of gems, delicate lacework, fretted coral, fluted
tracery, crystallized dew, drifted flakes, curves, webs, cones, prisms,
volutes, of immaculate glory—of whiteness such as no snow could equal —a
creation of unutterable loveliness. An efflorescence of wondrous purity and
beauty. It seems a shame—a sacrilege—to defile- such a floor with common
tread. I felt as Moses may have felt in the Presence itself, when he heard
the voice: "Take thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou
standest is holy ground."
And then the contrasts! Look at this mass of
black rock, uprearing its bulk right from the lip of
the great gleaming crater. The presiding genius has
tried to relieve its uncompromising blackness by a thick
drapery of soft moss and vernal ferns The same green
adornment brightens up the burnt scorched background of
the cliff beyond. How one wonders to see such delicate
fronds growing with vivid greenness on the very edge of
smouldering clay; and, to all seeming, thriving beside living
steam from pent-up fires below. And yet we shortly
cease to wonder at anything. Everything is wonderful; to
such an extent, that the very capacity for wonder seems to
become blunted and sated with repletion of wonders.
Right at the back of the geyser, having walked
half round the circumference of the great open
basin, we come up to a roaring blow-hole. There is a noise
as if all the din of Pluto's multitudinous workshops were
focussed into this outlet. A swift current of hot air and
attenuated steam comes screeching forth ; and so strong is
the blast that handfuls of large pebbles, thrown in by
Kate, are sent spinning back, aloft into the air. Spouts
of steam and jets of boiling water flash and flicker,
and spirt and sputter among the white rocks below.
They trickle and trail in glistening splendor over the
incrusted bosses, the tattooed fringes, and the marble
lips of the steep crater, at the back of which^ right
under the burning rocks, we are now standing. We are
enveloped in steam. "The fountains of the deep" are
breaking up all around us. It looks like a grand cloud of
perpetual incense rising up to the great source of all
life and activity, and we feel as the Psalmist may have
felt, and our heart whispers to us, "Shall not Thy works
praise thee, O God?"
As the perpetual, ceaseless beat of the
throbbing engines below shakes the earth, we think again
of that apocalyptic vision, and can now realize how even
earthly forces may be joining with spiritual
intelligences, in the never-ending adoration and
ascription; and with a new significance we think of the
phrase, "They rest not day and night."
Leaving the empty circumference, with its
background of steam and ferns, and spouting gouts of
boiling water, we descend the terraces, seeing the heavens
in every pool; and in a retired nook to the left, under an
overhanging canopy of scrub, we come upon three silently
overflowing hot wells, pouring their scalding libations
over three crested structures of great beauty, to which
fancy has given the names of Queen Victoria's Crown
and the Prince of Wales's Crown. The third Kate
appropriates, and calls it Kate's Crown.
Through a leafy arcade we now thread our way.
The ground sounds hollow, and echoes to our tread.
There is a scent of hothouse air, and pulling up the long velvety moss, a
tiny steam-escape follows the roots, which are hot enough
to be almost unpleasant to the touch. Nothing can more
vividly suggest the thinness of the crust on which we
gingerly tread. What a forcing-house!
Emerging into the open, we now stand on a
narrow neck of land, with crumbling, burning rocks
all around, on which it would be unsafe to venture. A
deep, black valley, called the Valley of Death (most
appropriate name), lies on the one hand, and on the other
is an agitated pool, in which, some time ago, a poor woman
was scalded to death.
A little further, and we come to a geyser called
the Steam Engine, with a great spray leaping over
Below is a boiling, hissing Phlegethon. It
rejoices in the appellation of Ngahapu, meaning,
"All the tribes rolled into one." Its hellish activity justifies its title.
It is one of the most vigorous geysers of all the
district. It has intermittent spasms of activity, during
which the huge column of water spouts up with amazing
force, and the din and commotion are truly infernal. A great column
of steam towers aloft, in ever changing volumes like the
"Pillar of cloud by day." The incessant vibration, and
clang, and pulsing din, go unintermittingly on, and almost
deafen us, as we shudderingly hurry past.
A few more yards bring us to the shore of the
lake—blast-holes here too, on all hands—Takapau, a
boiling cauldron, with countless lesser comrades, seething
and bubbling all around, make us think that surely here
all the witches of the earth are boiling their deadly
porridge "thick and slab."
Through the scrub again. Now we come on a
perfect hecatomb of broken bottles, empty cans,
straw, envelopes, and waste paper. This is humorously named by Kate the
Rotomahana Hotel, and is the place where lunch is usually
Up a steep, muddy hill now, and at the top we
emerge on the mud flat, where many boiling mud-
holes repeat the phenomena we have already seen, only
substituting liquid boiling mud instead of water. We look
down, and see a seething mass of molten mud in incessant motion. It rises up
in great circling domes and plastic cupolas, which seethe,
and expand, and swell, and then break with a lazy,
hissing, escape of steam; and the mass falls back and
collapses, and heaves up and down with an unctuous
horribleness. Sometimes a big spout rises up nearly to the
outside rim of the deep hole, and then falls back with a
sullen, vicious flop, as if some slimy spirit, there
imprisoned, were angry and baffled at not being able to
reach us, and smirch and scald us.
Here is the Coffee Pot, not inaptly named, if
one looks at the brown liquid, swirling around,
with an oily, dirty scum circling in endless eddies on the
Behind us, as we glance around, the whole
hillside, for many acres, smokes and steams, and as
the sun is glinting on it, the effect is indescribably lovely, as
contrasted with the sullen mud- holes into which we have
been peering. The light fleecy wreaths of steam take on
all sorts of rainbow tints from the sun, and curl
gracefully aloft, like an army of. cobwebs floating across
a lawn on some sunny morning in spring.
There are now many extinct cones in this valley^
and yet all the sights and sounds have a weird,
uncanny suggestiveness. Poke your stick through the thin
crust, and steam issues forth. Every cranny and fissure is
steaming and hot, and the whole mountain is undoubtedly a
hotbed of combustion.
The Devil's Hole, we hear roaring behind these
tumbled crags and smouldering cliffs. What a hoarse
gasping! It sounds indeed as if Apollyon chained down
below was being choked by the dogs of Cerberus, and that
their snarling and his wrathful choking roar were being
listened to by awe-stricken mortals. The wonders here
again are "legion"—the Green Lake, the gypsum slabs;
the Porridge-Pot, of which we taste, and exchange
One says, "it is acid."
Another says, "it is tasteless."
Yet another, "it is sweet."
Yet one more, "it tastes like ink."
I vow it "tastes like melted slate pencil," and
we all agree that that is about as correct a definition
as we can arrive at. The Maoris, we are told, frequently eat it in
We climb next a white rocky eminence, and get
a peep over the lake at the Pink Terraces on the
far side with their circling canopy of steam.
We pass more scaly white efflorescences amid
the scrub, gaze upon another active geyser with an
unspellable name, wonder at the gurly blackness of "The
Ink-Pot" in a state of frantic ebullition, and again dive
into the thick scrub.
Here all is solemnly still. The earth shakes
beneath us. We are walking over vast caverns of
boiling mud and pent-up steam, and sometimes as we pass a
crevice we can hear the boiling waters swishing and
sighing restlessly far, far below.
The Devil's Wife was the next sensation, "and
an angry wife was she," as the old song says.
What a grumbling, spitting, fiendish vixen she
must be, if she is at all like this spuming, growling
hole. Close by is a vast dried-up gulf of slaty
mud,—at least, it was so when we saw it. It is
uneuphemistically named The Bellyache, and at times we are
told the moans and outcries are supernaturally terrible.
It only indulged in one unearthly groan while we were
there; but that was enough to startle us all, and make us
hurry from the spot.
There are vast deposits of gypsum and sulphur
here, and possibly as the central fires "slow down"
and cool off, and when the railway comes with its
utilitarian matter-of-fact presence, some speculators
unless restrained will mar the poetry of this spot of
marvels, and turn the glories of the place into pounds,
shillings, and pence.
Here we come to warm caves and terraces
of broad flagstones, where Maoris once lived.
Moko's Cave is a natural Turkish bath, where I forget how
many -generations Kate said were born and reared. They
must have had a hot time of it. The fires are burning out
this side the hill, surely. Here is a deserted terrace,
now getting cold and moss-grown. Below it, and near
the lake, is a boiling pool of some extent, and of
an exquisite deep blue, in which a poor Maori nurse-girl and her charge—a
helpless infant—were boiled. The bodies were never
recovered. Did the gnomes of the hill have a cannibal
broth, we wonder? The cauldron is named after the poor
girl, Ruakini, and it is forming a white terrace here on a
small scale, as if weaving a shroud for the poor
It is now, however, getting near lunch-time.
The sun is high in the heavens ; and, turning a
corner, we emerge from the bush on to the terraced shore
of the lake, where already in the hot springs, the prawns
and potatoes are being cooked, and where our attendant
Maoris are waiting, gastro- nomically expectant for their
share of the good things in the provender baskets. "To
what base uses may we not descend?"
The foregoing descriptions of the hot lakes
region, have been invested with a mournful interest since
they were written, by reason of the awful and sudden
eruption at Wairoa and Rotomahana, on the night of
Wednesday, the 9th, and the morning of Thursday the 10th
June, 1886. In the Appendix No. II. full extracts are
given from the Australian papers, and it will be seen what an awful
calamity has taken place.
The loss of life must have been appalling, and
scores of the light-hearted merry Maoris, with whom we
came in contact, were swallowed up in the black, blinding, stifling shower
of ashes and volcanic mud. It is said the beautiful Terraces
are gone, and Lake Rotomahana itself, is now a seething,
hissing, quaking morass. The exquisite forest of Tikitapu
lies buried ten feet deep under the deadly hail of fire. The
whole face of the country for leagues around has been completely
changed, so that the record of our summer holiday will
form perhaps a valuable reference to many who wish to have
an accurate description of what were certainly some of the
most marvellous and beautiful natural phenomena on the
face of our globe.
For fuller details I must refer the reader to