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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Volcanic Scenery

Volcanic Scenery.

Dr. Moore showed a map of the volcanic zone of the North Island, covering 4,700 square miles of country, on which the following scenes and places are situated: Wairakei Geysers, near Lake Taupo; the Wai-o-tapu (Sacred River) Valley, showing mud volcanoes; the crater of Ngauruahoe, still active, 7,481 feet above sea level; Government Sanatorium at Lake Rotorua; Wairoa, before and after the eruption of Mount Tarawera, June 10th, 1886; the White and Pink Terraces (now destroyed); new-craters of Rotomahana and Okaro; the Great Rift in Tarawera Mountain, and other phenomena of the great outbreak.

Having been requested by the Secretary to give some account of the Tarawera Eruption in the course of his lecture, Dr. Moore gave the following (condensed) exposition of that remarkable event: Geologists are nearly all agreed that the islands forming the colony of New Zealand have been upheaved from the bed of the ocean in Eocene times, but that the North Island has appeared above the surface rather later, perhaps page 37 during the tertiary period. One-third of its area consists of rhyolitic and basaltic rocks, and over a surface of 10,700 square miles we find blocks of pumice and of obsidian varying from a thousand cubic feet down to the size of a pea. It is within this area that all the remaining volcanic activities exist. Lake Taupo, a grand sheet of water, 35 miles across, 1,280 feet above sea level, doubtless covers the sites of several extinct craters, and is surrounded by the still-smoking Ngauruahoe, Ruapehu (8,878 feet), Tongariro, and five other extinct volcanoes at some distance. The long axis of this zone runs from N.E. to S.W., and it is in this direction that the earthquake waves run, and that the great rift in Tarawera and the country S.W. of the mountain was made by the outbreak which I shall describe. To show the immense volcanic activity that ages since existed north of this zone, I show you here a map of the isthmus of Auckland (a bird's-eye view), on which Dr. Hochstetter counted 63 distinct craters within ten miles of the city. When driving in the neighbourhood of' Auckland, I was often struck with the hollow rumbling sound made by my carriage, marking the position of air caverns formed underneath the ridges of rapidly-cooled and solidified lava over which I was being driven. The very name of the volcanic island I showed you near Auckland Harbour, Raugitoto, means "bloody sky," whence it is just possible to deduce the theory that some manifestations may have taken place there in far-back times when the Maoris first arrived in New Zealand. But strict geological laws are against this supposition, and the name may have been brought from their primitive seat by the Maoris, and given to the island which most nearly resembled the original in that distant group from whence they came. Be this as it may, there is no district in the whole colony so free from seismic and volcanic disturbances of any kind as that which extends from Papakura and Drury northward to Cape Reinga.

Mount Tarawera (3,650ft.), on the eastern shore of the lake of that name, is of igneous origin, but - possessed no trace of a crater previous to the day of the eruption. I passed the mountain in 1880, when visiting these exquisite terraces I now show you, and noticed that it resembled Table Mountain at the Cape of Good Hope. Two Maori settlements, Te Ariki and Te Moura, nestled at its foot, and the small Lake Rotomahana, on the borders of which the terraces of sinter had been formed, was about a mile from the nearest part of its broad base. The village of Wairoa is about four miles from its summit, and the half-European, half-Maori town of Ohinemutu is distant sixteen miles. Suddenly, without any definite premonitory signs, at 2 a.m. on the 10th June, 1886, amid earthquakes, a roaring noise, and a tempest of wind, three enormous columns of fire and smoke shot up from the flat summit of Tarawera, and in an page 38 hour three conical craters were formed—Wahanga, Ruawahia, and Tarawera, each 130 to 150 feet in height. Eye-witnesses tell me that it was the most awful sight they had seen, or ever expect to see, on this side of eternity. Fireballs in great numbers were shot out of these craters to an immense height, and descended on the Maori settlements and on Wairoa, killing some inhabitants and setting the grass huts of others, called whares, on fire. In a short time the volcanic dust, which in enormous quantities had been projected into the air, fell in the form of mud, overwhelming Wairoa, and covering the country for many square miles round with a layer of from one to six feet deep. By these destructive agencies of the eruption, 111 lives—105 Maoris and 6 Europeans—were lost. Here you see, in the views of Wairoa before and after the eruption, what terrible damage was caused. It was in the fall of Macrae's Hotel that young Edwin Bain-bridge, a tourist from Newcastle-on-Tyne, was killed. From one of the native huts an old priest, or tohunga, of the Maoris, aged 104; years, was dug out, alive, after four days' entombment. He died in the hospital shortly afterwards. The ruins of the schoolmaster's house, where Mr. Haszard and three of his children perished, Mrs. Haszard escaping most miraculously, form a melancholy reminiscence of that good man, whose noble gospel and temperance work among the natives will last for eternity. In the physical features of the country S.W. of Tarawera Mountain great and permanent changes took place. The Terraces utterly disappeared from view. Lake Rotomahana was converted into an immense steam geyser, and a rift in the side of Mount Tarawera, extending through this crater, runs S.W. for nine miles, varying in width from a furlong to 1½ mile, and in depth from 300 to 900 feet. The mud and pumiceous sand were by the winter's rains of July and August, 1886, washed into the ground, or into the rivers, the result being that, though for the first two or three weeks hundreds of cattle and sheep perished from being deprived of grass, in the following spring there was better pasture than before on the poorer land. We in Auckland, 140 miles distant, distinctly heard the explosive noises of the eruption, and three days later actually saw the black cloud of ashes in the sky, which was carried up to a calculated height of 44,700 feet, and spread in all directions by the winds and clouds. Had the Tarawera eruption occurred in summer, there would have been a terrible loss of life among the visitors, who in ever-increasing numbers, year by year, had made the tour of the terraces, geysers, and other volcanic wonders.

The Middle Island is devoid of volcanic but not of seismic manifestations, for, though the only traces of the former are found in the hot springs of Hanmer Plains and at Sumner Lake, the earthquakes occur too frequently to be pleasant in Nelson page 39 Christchurch, Dunedin, and Invercargill. The rocks of this island and of the South or Stewart's Island consist of gneiss, granite, quartzite, clay, slate, micaceous schists, and, speaking generally, of older formations than those of the North. Coal beds are found in all the islands, the most extensive being on the west coast of Middle Island, at Westport, Greymouth, and Hokitita.

Dr. Moore then exhibited some Maori portraits—"King" Tawhiao, Chiefs Wi Marsh, Kawiti, and others. Also Te Kooti's house, with native-carved posts, rafters, and a totem on the gable end; Maori girls in European dress; the Maori "capital," Parihaka, at the foot of Mount Egmont, in Taranaki. The scenes in the " King," or till lately disaffected, country selected were—the Waitomo Stalactite Caves, near Otorohauga, and the exquisitely lovely Falls of Te Kakahi, on the Upper Wanganui River.

The Main Trunk Railway of the North Island will open up much wild and romantic scenery to the tourist, and tap some valuable mineral deposits and coal-beds. It is now the one great public work left unfinished, for the want of funds, in the North Island. The Manawatu Gorge, the prettiest valley of the North Island, through which the last link of rail connecting Napier with New Plymouth and Wellington will run. Views of the cities of Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin; of Lake Wakatipu, the largest lake of the Middle Island; of Mount Earnslaw (9,100ft.); and of the West Coast Sounds—Dusky Sound, George Sound, and the culminating glory of all of them, Milford Sound (seven views)—concluded the address.