Scientists Solve The Mystery Of The Long-Lost “Eighth Wonder Of The World”


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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White Terraces, near Rotorua, New Zealand painted by Charles Blomfield (1848–1926). Public Domain

Once upon a time, the Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana, New Zealand – a brilliantly-colored cascading set of pools formed by silica-rich deposits and volcanic activity – was widely considered the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

Then, with little warning, it vanished.


In the wake of the colossal volcanic eruption of New Zealand’s Mount Tarawera in the early hours of June 10, 1886, this vast geological spectacle was destroyed. Although no longer visible to the eye, some geologists held onto the hope that it may just be buried and not utterly obliterated, and both the "Wonder" and the eruption have remained the subject of much mystery and ambiguity ever since. 

In 2017, researchers stumbled across the diaries of the 19th-century geologist Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter that appeared to accurately describe the location of the Pink and White Terraces. Once again, hopes were high that this could lead to scientists “rediscovering” the rocky delight.

Unfortunately, a comprehensive new study has concluded this idea is pretty farfetched – it looks like the Pink and White Terraces are long gone.

An 1880 photograph of the wonder by Charles Spencer, just six years before its destruction. Charles Spencer/Public Domain

Writing in the Journal of The Royal Society of New Zealand, scientists from GNS Science and the University of Auckland have concluded the dreamy colored terraces of Lake Rotomahana are destroyed and lost at the bottom of the lake, just as their previous work in 2016 also concluded.


After recent research based on historic maps posited the theory that the Terraces could have been buried on land by the lake, they decided to clear up the mystery of the vanishing Wonder once and for all. 

“We’ve re-examined all of our findings from several years ago and have concluded that it is untenable that the Terraces could be buried on land next to Lake Rotomahana,” lead author Dr Cornel de Ronde said in a statement.

They reached this conclusion by drawing on an array of information, including historical photographs, antique maps, magnetics, measurements of the water column, side-scan sonar imaging, seismic surveys, underwater photography, and surveys of geothermal activity under the lake floor.

Their analysis strongly suggests that the White Terraces were almost entirely obliterated by the famed eruption. Equally, their work shows how the eruption managed to raise the level of the lake by at least 60 meters (197 feet) and its area increased by about five times. This flood of water then swamped much of the surrounding area, along with remnants of the Pink Terraces, which now lie on the bottom of Lake Rotomahana.


"The destruction of the majority of the Terraces is perhaps not surprising given that the 1886 eruption was so violent it was heard in Auckland and in the South Island," Dr de Ronde added. "The blast left a 17-kilometer [10-mile] long gash through Mount Tarawera and southwestwards beneath lake.”


  • tag
  • geology,

  • volcano,

  • New Zealand,

  • eighth wonder of the world,

  • lake rotomahana,

  • Pink and White Terraces