Before the eruption, visitors from around the world flocked to the shores of the lake see the famed Pink and White Terraces - once named the '8th wonder of the world' - which the eruption destroyed.
Today, Lake Tarawera is one of 18 clean and pristine lakes in the Rotorua region. Only a 15 minute drive from Rotorua, the lake is set amidst beautiful scenery and lies underneath the majestic Mount Tarawera itself.
On the northern lake shores thermal springs gently rise through the lake bed, warming the water and creating mystical steam shrouded cliffs. Named Hot Water Beach, this is the perfect location for a relaxing swim in the naturally heated pools and for picnics by the lakeside.
A number of walking tracks dot the area surrounding Lake Tarawera, including the picturesque Tarawera Falls trail. Here, visitors can see the most spectacular falls in the Bay of Plenty, plunging 65 metres down a sheer cliff before tumbling down native bush-lined rapids.
For centuries the Tuhorangi tribe (a sub tribe of Te Arawa) held Mount Tarawera in the highest regard. Their leaders were buried on its summit, and the bones of countless ancestors were entombed around its base.
Imagine their grief when, in the early hours of 10 June 1886, the mountain began to erupt, thrusting columns of molten rock thousands of metres into the air. A thick dark cloud formed high above the eruption, its underside lit coppery red by the activity below. Lightening and thunder broke out and molten balls of rock began to rain down onto the lake and surrounding landscape.
Worse was about to come. Beneath the earth's surface, hot magma met the underground waterways of nearby Lake Rotomahana. This rapidly created a vast amount of superheated steam that simply blew the bottom out of the lake, sending scalding mud high, far and wide.
For the surviving local Maori, the eruption was devastating. Their ancestors' remains were destroyed, many of their people were killed and their lands and livelihood were metres deep in mud and ash. In addition, the amazing Pink and White Terraces - recognised as the eighth wonder of the world - were completely destroyed.
Today the giant mountain lies sleeping once more. Its crater, a gaping six kilometre ravine, is clear testament to the ferocity of the 1866 eruption. Access onto the mountain is restricted to guided tours. Its majesty can also be viewed from a scenic flight.
As the land of Mount Tarawera belongs to the local Maori tribe- the only way to walk on Mount Tarawera is with a local guide. Kaitiaki Adventures runs daily fully guided walking experiences that encompass the unique landscape and history of the area. With unmatched scenic vistas and 360 panoramic views this experience is ideal for all ages and includes an optional run in to the heart of the volcanic crater.