The Eighth Wonder of the World May Have Been Rediscovered

Throughout the 19th century, New Zealand boasted one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, a site widely recognized as the “eighth wonder of the world” that drew crowds on the treacherous journey over the ocean from North America and Europe simply to see it. The site was composed of two spectacles, the Pink Terraces (or “Te Otukapuarangi” in the native Maori meaning “the fountain of the clouded sky”) and the White Terrace (or “Te Tarata” meaning “the tattooed rock”). These magnificent hydrothermal cascading pools were very suddenly wiped off the face of the Earth by volcanic activity when Mount Tarawera erupted in the late 19th century. However, two researchers now believe they have pinpointed the location of the former Terraces, 131 years after their loss.

Rex Bunn and Dr Sacha Nolden are two researchers whose paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand suggests that the Pink and White Terraces, once thought to have been destroyed or pushed to the bottom of Lake Rotomahana, may in fact be buried at the foreshore of the lake.

Studying the field notes from the 1859 diaries of Ferdinand von Hochstetter, who carried out a topographical and geographical survey of the Rotomahana area in the years preceding the eruption, Bunn and Dr Nolden reconstructed his map of the lake using a process known as forensic cartography. While Bunn notes that von Hoschstetter was “a very competent cartographer”, the sheer scale of the eruption created a scene that was almost entirely unrecognizable, so Bunn and Dr Nolden set about comparing current geological features with the data of the 1859 survey to narrow down the most likely location of the terraces. This was a painstaking procedure for the team, with Bunn stating that they had spent approximately 2,500 hours on this process over the past twelve months.

The team now says that they have pinpointed the location to within 35 meters, and Bunn claimed to that this is closer “than anyone has ever been in the last 130 years”. The pair asserts that this is a close enough estimation of the terraces’ location that it could see excavating the site as a reality in the near future. The decision to explore and excavate the site is left in the hands of the local Tuhourangi tribal authorities, as the terraces are located beneath their land; Bunn has, however, told The Guardian that he has been liaising with the ancestral owners of the land and they are “supportive and delighted with the work”. The next step for the team will be achieving their fundraising goal of NZ$70,000, and assembling a reliable team to begin exploring the site.

People bathing in the Pink Terraces back in 1880.

As for what we may expect, Bunn claims that the terraces could be left in reasonable condition and may well be restored to their former glory once excavated. The terrace formations are thought to be over 7,000 years old and were once striking swimming places, with stepping pools descending into the temperate Lake Rotomahana beneath. The terraces were believed to be the largest silica deposits on the planet – formed by a mineral spring depositing sediment that hardens and creates spectacular natural formations. The pink hue of the Pink Terrace is thought to have occurred as a result of colonies of pigmented micro-organisms, related to the organisms that give Yellowstone National Park’s Morning Glory pool its stunning color.

However, Bunn and Dr Nolden’s research is contradicted by prior research, including one 2016 paper published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research that suggested the terraces had been destroyed by the eruption. This theory was later challenged by Bill Keir, who suggested that the terraces were in fact under the surface of Lake Rotomahana and speculated that they could not be submerged “more than 40 meters below the surface”. However, if Bunn and Dr Nolden are correct in their research, we may well be reintroduced to the eighth wonder of the world in years to come.

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