Lake Rotomahana in Waimangu Volcanic Valley is steeped in history, but remains one of the area’s hidden gems.
Lake Rotomahana (warm lake) was previously a much smaller lake, alongside another small lake Rotomakariri (cold lake).
The first Maori settlers in the area were from Te Arawa waka, they travelled inland from Maketu and settled close to the geothermal activity, so they could benefit from its advantages for cooking, bathing and warmth. There were numerous villages around the area, home to sub-tribes Tūhourangi and Ngāti Rangitihi.
The lakes sat at the base of Mount Tarawera, a volcano with an explosive history. The volcano is known to have erupted about 18,000, 15,000, 11¸000 and 650 years ago before the most recent eruption in 1886. The eruption 650 years ago gave the mountain its 3 distinct domes and is likely to have uncovered the surface features that contributed to the creation of the Pink and White Terraces.
The Pink and White Terraces were incredible natural formations on the shores of Lake Rotomahana, labelled as the 8th Natural Wonder of World.
The discovery of the Pink and White Terraces triggered the birth of tourism in New Zealand. Word about the mystical structures spread and visitors flocked to the Tarawera region.
Villagers in the local Te Wairoa village would host guests with a hangi meal and cultural performance and then they would be guided across Lake Tarawera to Rotomahana to see and bathe in the Pink and White Terraces.
The 1886 eruption opened up a 17km rift in the earth’s surface, blasting out a line of craters and uncovering geothermal systems we now see through the Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
At Rotomahana, the eruption triggered a huge explosion in the hydrothermal system that had fed the hot springs, blasting a crater 20 times the size of the original lake and merging the 2 lakes. The ejecta is thought to have risen to a height of 11km, dumping sand, rocks, dust and lava on the surrounding area.
The villages were mostly buried by the eruption, killing over 100 people and devastating all plant and bird life. The surviving people of the Tūhourangi and Ngāti Rangitihi tribes relocated closer to Rotorua city at Whakarewarewa thermal village where many of them still live today. Some of the descendants of the original Pink and White Terraces guides are still guiding today in Rotorua.
In 1900 a large geyser started erupting in the geothermal valley, regularly throwing up a black mass of water, rocks and mud into the air as high as 460m. It was named Waimangu or “Black Water” and gave the name to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
The geyser attracted the return of visitors to the area. In 1901, the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts was formed to promote tourism and the original ‘Round Trip’ was born. Visitors would once again follow in the footsteps of those who had previously visited original Pink and White Terraces.
By about 1910 the crater had filled with water, creating the lake as we see it today. It is the deepest lake in the Rotorua region.
The lake is still largely active with surface features of the geothermal system that pre-dates the 1886 eruption. Around the south west side of the lake, a collection of bays, known collectively as the Steaming Cliffs display spectacular hot springs, geysers and steaming vents.
Much research into the state of the hidden terraces continues and each development arouses much intrigue.
Discover Lake Rotomahana this Summer
Lake Rotomahana Boat Cruise
Enjoy a 45-minute cruise on Lake Rotomahana, see the plant and bird life protected by the lake’s wildlife refuge status, and geothermal features only accessible from the water. Visit the final resting places of the Pink and White Terraces as you learn about the history and stories of this fascinating area.
Full Waimangu Experience
Combine the Lake Rotomahana Boat Cruise with walking access to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley in the Full Waimangu Experience. Walk the full 4km trail to the lake or combine a shorter walk with the free internal shuttle bus. See the world’s largest hot spring, bubbling streams, colourful sinter terraces and the mysterious blue Inferno Crater Lake.
Steaming Cliffs Kayak
Explore the steaming cliffs of Lake Rotomahana by kayak with Paddle Board Rotorua. This 90-minute guided tour offers a new way to enjoy this stunning natural environment and learn the stories of the Tarawera eruption. See lakeside hot springs, geysers and colourful cliffs from the water as you paddle around the lake’s edge.