April 11, 2013

New Zealand: Mount Tarawera’s Legacy

By Michael Travers

In 1886, New Zealand’s Mt. Tarawera violently erupted killing scores of people under tons of red-hot mud and ash, destroying then creating a lake, and obliterating the famous Pink and White Terraces in the process. Today the area is a geological and cultural wonderland and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.

Surrounded by lakes, forests, hot springs and boiling pools of mud, Rotorua is the North Island’s best-known tourist town and people come from around the world to see and experience the myriad attractions that offer so much natural scenery and jaw-shattering adrenaline adventure that it would take a month of Sundays to see and do it all. Sadly for the visitor, each tourist operator seems to think that their operation is number one and they overcharge accordingly, making it a tad expensive to see and do everything you want. Moreover, the thrill is often over in seconds (a bungy jump!) - and where’s the value in that? For a full day of culture, history and natural history, not to mention being surrounded by the scenic wonder that makes New Zealand famous, visiting the Te Wairoa Buried Village and the Waimungu Volcanic Valley will not only give you more bang for your buck, they will also fill you with shock and awe. Both are only 15km and 25km from Rotorua respectively and inextricably linked in the shadow of the infamous mountain responsible for New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.

The Buried Village of Te Wairoa is truly unique to Rotorua. Set up in 1840 it was a prosperous mission settlement on the shores of Lake Tarawera. It was also the staging post for people coming to visit the Pink and White Terraces on the nearby Lake Rotomahana; great crystalline pools and waterfalls that cascaded down the hillsides of the lake. These huge, cascading structures were known as Otukapuarangi (fountain of the clouded sky) or Te Tarata (the tattooed rock) and were seen as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. Each pool had varying temperatures and mineral contents and people would travel from far and wide to soak in the waters, which were rumoured to cure every ailment from arthritis to asthma. All that changed on June 10, 1886 when nearby Mt Tarawera exploded without warning.

Just after midnight, people in Te Wairoa village were woken by a series of violent earthquakes. At about 2am the Ruawāhia Dome on Mt Tarawera erupted, sending molten scoria rushing down its sides and a cloud of ash 10 kilometres into the sky. In the following hours further craters were forced open, spewing out mud, ash and steam burying Te Wairoa, and other villages around the lake, under many metres of volcanic mud and ash. When the mountain erupted so did Lake Rotomahana, and the terraces were totally destroyed along with the lake.

Over 150 people were killed. Today, Te Wairoa is a living museum. It has been partially excavated over the years and offers a first-hand insight into the chaos and mayhem that transpired on the night of the eruption and is an authentic appreciation of the people of the village, both Maori and European, on how they lived and died.

Visitors enter appropriately through the gift shop before proceeding on through to a wonderfully curated museum, which shows the early lives of the local inhabitants with lots of artifacts and photos taken both before and after the eruption. A local tour guide will take you on a 45-minute tour through the half buried and excavated dwellings, both Maori and European, vividly detailing the dramatic events of the night. Random artifacts and remnants of colonial life lying in situ can be seen throughout the 12-acre site. A clear stream with rainbow trout runs along the side of the property which culminates in the 30-metrehigh Wairere Falls, accessible by walkway, that crash off into the forest below. From here it is only a five-minute drive to Lake Tarawera, where its impressive namesake volcano can be seen on the opposite bank a few kilometres away.

A 20-minute drive away to the south is the Waimungu Volcanic Valley (the other end of the catastrophe), a geothermal scar of hot pools, silica terraces and steam vents left behind by the concurrent eruption of Lake Rotomahana, which although destroyed by the eruption, filled to its current size of 20 times its original volume fifteen years later.

The area is a scenic reserve and the views down the valley from the visitors centre take in pristine native bush, steaming vents and the dramatic ragged-topped Mt. Tarawera in the distance above the lake. There are organized tours but it’s just as easy, and more leisurely, to simply take a brochure and head off down the well-marked lush forest track to see what unfolds. Among the sights are steaming lakes and cliffs, silica terraces, gurgling geysers, burping mud pools; all with names like Frying Pan lake and Emerald Pool, and, most spectacularly, a highly acidic cobalt-blue pool called the Inferno Crater, which overflows, recedes and oscillates over eight metres during a several week cycle.

At the bottom of the valley is Lake Rotomahana, where a 45- minute boat cruise will take you to see some of the more beautiful geothermal features inaccessible by land. After returning to the jetty a bus will be waiting to take you back to the top of the trail and the visitors centre so you don’t have to make the arduous walk to the top.

So, if you have no more than a day or two to visit Rotorua, don’t waste time and money bungy jumping or jet-boating - you can do that anywhere. Get out amongst the amazing culture, history and geothermal legacy that the region has to offer. You won’t regret it. Unless you hear a distant rumbling to the east, then simply run like hell!

April 02, 2013

Britain: Go Hang Yourself

David Ellis

THE Brits love to let you know they've a ghost of two around, and the more macabre the plight of the poor soul whose spirit supposedly haunts their local pub, mansion, castle or monastery, the more they relish sharing – and just occasionally – embellishing their yarn.

We've heard many a ghostly tale over a warm pint or three, and while somewhat sceptical as to their authenticity, there are two we empathise with. Because both involve pubs – coupled with ghoulish "hanging fields," gruesome places on which official gallows were set up in open fields for barbaric public viewing before urban sprawl overtook them.

The first involves the Court Oak pub in Birmingham's Harborne, whose resident ghost has been dubbed by regular patrons Corky – because he's probably the world's only- known supernatural wine snob.

Corky earned his reputation from smashing bottles of the pub's cheaper-label house wines that apparently were not to his liking.

"It isn't so much that things go bump in the night here, as things go smash in the night here," staffers say. "He smashes them until they are replaced with others seemingly more to his favour: We've heard smashing when we've closed for the night and there is no one working in the cellar, and on the same nights customers have sworn they've earlier seen the apparition of a man about 60 in old-fashioned attire suddenly materialising behind the bar, and equally instantly disappearing…"

And more strangely Corky the wine snob "appears" for only a few nights a year: those in the lead-up to Halloween. "There was a 'hanging field' on this site in the 17th century," a staffer says. "We believe Corky is the ghost of some well-to-do soul who knew his wines, but fell to the hangman's noose all those years ago on this very spot… he's just come back for a drink, but is very particular."

The other English pub ghost whose tale we empathise with is far less charismatic. And while never actually having been seen, his (or is it her?) presence has on many occasions been eerily felt in the basement of the Coach Makers of Marylebone pub right in London.

And staff believe that presence – they say it's like someone is looking over your shoulder – is that of some poor soul who drowned in the River Tyburn that once ran past the hotel, after flowing from another "hanging field," this one on the outskirts of nearby Tyburn village.

Tyburn's first hangings were carried out in 1196 and over the next near-600 years thousands were hauled by open cart from Newgate Prison – bizarrely carrying their coffins with them – to meet their fate there, ghoulish crowds clambering to watch the spectacle of the hangman doing his job.

And in 1571 authorities replaced the several single gallows at Tyburn with the grotesque Tyburn Triple Tree, three tall posts in triangular formation topped with heavy beams, from which numerous nooses could despatch multiple prisoners at a time... murderers, thieves, highwaymen, forgers, traitors and religious martyrs, 90% males.

The Tyburn Triple Tree drew even greater crowds for the regular Monday hangings, with anything up to 60,000 or more coming to watch. Entrepreneurial villagers built "grandstands" on which they sold seats to cheer-on the final death throes of those being hanged before them, while hawkers moved through the crowds selling beer and brandy, home-made cakes and gingerbreads…

And hangmen at day's end would sell their ropes by the inch (25mm) as souvenirs…

The biggest crowd gathered on June 23 1649 when 23 men and one woman were hanged in groups, the 100,000+ mob cheering "good dying, good dying!!!" and jeering those who went weak-kneed as the noose was placed around their necks.

Tyburn's Triple Tree was removed in November 1783 and today three brass plaques on a traffic island at London's now-Marble Arch mark where the Tree's posts stood.

Some speculate that the ghost of the Coach Makers of Marylebone pub could be that of an intended victim of the Tyburn gallows, grabbed from the hangman by a sympathetic crowd – and who drowned while trying to flee across the adjacent Tyburn River.

If you're in London head for the Coach Makers of Marylebone. Aussie barman Lachlan Andrews from Brisbane will tell you over your drink, all about their ghostly basement dweller.



[] A CONTEMPORARY print of a Monday hanging at Tyburn: note the hapless prisoner travels with his own coffin. (British Tourism Authority)
[] BIRMINGHAM'S Court Oak hotel, home to the world's only supernatural wine snob?
[] THE Coach Makers of Marylebone: let Aussie barman Lachlan Andrews tell you the Tale of their ghostly basement dweller. (Coach Makers of Marylebone)

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