Two researchers claim to have rediscovered the eighth natural wonder of the world in New Zealand, 131 years after it was buried by a volcanic eruption.
In 1886, a powerful eruption of Mount Tarawera set off a chain reaction of massive explosions and lava flows and released as much energy as the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated (the Tsar Bomba), killed at least 120 inhabitants, left a 17-kilometre laceration across the face of the mountain, and destroyed the Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana on New Zealand’s North Island, sometimes referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Originally formed by the slow accumulation of silica-rich deposits from ancient geothermal springs, the terraces – dramatic natural, colorful, cascading pools that descended into the lake – were a major tourist attraction in the 1800s.
Everyone thought the fiery events of 1886 annihilated the terraces, known as the “fountain of the clouded sky” (pink) and the “tattooed rock” (white), for good, though the search for their wreckage has been conducted ever since.
In 2010, a diary by the 19th-century geologist Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter was recovered from a Swiss museum collection. A research librarian and a historian analyzed the diary and came to the conclusion that it accurately describes the location of the Pink and White Terraces before the 1886 eruption in unprecedented detail.
A paper recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand claims to have pinpointed the location where the terraces may lie preserved 10-15 meters below the surface, under layers of mud and ash. They insist the terraces were split into three parts, and were not found in Lake Rotomahana, but elsewhere near other geothermal springs. The authors note:
“The cartography shows the Pink, Black and White Terrace spring locations, Te Otukapuarangi, Te Ngāwhā a Te Tuhi and Te Tarata lie buried on land. From novel lake altimetry, the plotted terrace spring locations lie buried 10–15 m.
“A full archaeological site investigation including imaging and core drilling is indicated to examine the three terrace locations. Excavation on one or more of the Pink, Black and White Terrace sites may then be determined.”
Rex Bunn and Dr Sascha Nolden, the two researchers, believe the terraces were not destroyed or pushed to the bottom of the lake, as earlier research suggested, but were buried on the foreshore of the lake. Bunn told The Guardian:
“They [the terraces] became the greatest tourist attraction in the southern hemisphere and the British Empire, and shiploads of tourists made the dangerous visit down from the UK, Europe and America to see them. But they were never surveyed by the government of the time, so there was no record of their latitude or longitude. Our research relied on the only survey ever made of that part of New Zealand and therefore we are confident the cartography is sound. Hochstetter was a very competent cartographer.”
Bunn believes the terraces may be in reasonable condition, potentially with minimal damage, and could be restored to their former glory once excavated. The researchers are now preparing a full archaeological site investigation, with hopes the terraces might be returned to public view.
Officially, there were Seven Wonders of the World, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Pyramid of Giza, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, among others.