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In 1859, a geologist named Ferdinand von Hochstette was contracted by the local government to make a geological survey of the New Zealand islands. He is now widely heralded as the “father of New Zealand cartography”. From his field diaries, Bunn and colleagues were able to extract valuable information about the whereabouts of the terraces.

Pink and White Terraces by Lake Rotomahana, North Island, New Zealand Date: circa 1866. Public Domain.

Pink and White Terraces by Lake Rotomahana, North Island, New Zealand Date: circa 1866. Public Domain.

This was no easy job, despite access to Hochstette’s notes and maps. “Hochstetter was a very competent cartographer,” Bunn said, who went on to add his team spent 2,500 man-hours to find the terraces, which a previous study deemed they were completely destroyed. Though the 19th-century cartographer did a very good job, his sketches were not entirely valid anymore since the topography was changed by Mount Tarawera’s eruption. Eventually, the researchers managed to write an algorithm whose margin of error is no greater than plus or minus 35 meters.

Bunn and colleagues argue that the terraces survived the eruption and were not pushed to the bottom of the lake or destroyed, as the other study suggested. Instead, the team says the terraces lie 30 to 50 feet below the lake’s shore. A submerged robotic submarine has found remains that suggest the terraces, which span hundreds of meters, are still there.

“They got completely and utterly covered, and then, when the waters rose, they and their muddy cloak disappeared from view entirely,” Bunn said.

Not only that, some parts could be recoverable to boot. For now, Bunn is looking for funding to excavate the area with the blessing of the local Tuhourangi tribal authority.

“The pink and white terraces may in some small way return, to delight visitors to Rotorua as they did in the 19th century,” Bunn told

The findings appeared in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.