Once upon a time – on June 10, 1886, to be more precise – there was a rather powerful volcanic eruption at Lake Rotomahana on New Zealand's North Island. Pressurized magma rose from the depths to encounter the lake, and due to an interesting quirk of physics that’s not yet properly understood, it set off a chain reaction of massive explosions and lava flows.
By the end of the eruption, it is estimated that it released as much energy as the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba. It also happened to destroy a rather beautiful formation named the Pink and White Terraces, sometimes referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Known as the “fountain of the clouded sky” (pink) and the “tattooed rock” (white), they were originally formed by the slow accumulation of silica-rich deposits from some rather ancient geothermal springs, but the fiery events of 1886 was thought to have annihilated them. The search for their wreckage has been conducted ever since, and a 2016 paper in the Journal of New Zealand Studies claims to have made a breakthrough.
It’s all thanks to a diary by the 19th-century geologist Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter. Recovered in 2010 from a museum collection, it has recently been perused through by a research librarian and a historian, and they have come to the conclusion that it accurately describes the location of the Pink and White Terraces in unprecedented detail.
Based on field notes – and not an actual map – the pair of researchers mathematically narrowed down where Hochstetter must have been standing when he described the Terraces all those years ago.
According to their analysis, the Terraces were split into three parts, and were not found in Lake Rotomahana, but elsewhere near other geothermal springs. They argue that the descriptions used by British colonialists back then were somewhat fanciful and not particularly accurate.
Arguing that their margin of error is now down to a measly 35 meters (115 feet), they have called on the authorities to initiate a geological expedition to help confirm whether or not they are right. If they are, it will have solved one of the world’s most mysterious scientific enigmas.