Southeast of Rotorua lies the fascinating Mount Tarawera, a volcanic mountain that is the subject of much local history. There are numerous walking tracks, adventure activities and cultural sites connected to Mount Tarawera and surrounding lakes.
The 1111-metre high mountain is defined by a series of lava domes that formed down the centre of the mountain, following a devastating eruption in 1886. The peaks are Ruawahia Peak, Tarawera Peak and Wahanga Peak.
Perhaps the volcano's most distinct surrounding feature is a series of lakes created or changed in the 1886 eruption. These lakes include Lakes Tarawera (from which the Tarawera River runs), Rotomahana, Rerewhakaaitu, Okataina, Okareka, Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Rotokakahi (Green Lake).
The 1886 eruption is a pivotal part of local history. Well before the disaster, local history tells of Tamahoi, a man-eating ogre who lived on the mountain. Ngatoroirangi, the tohunga, (a man possessing powerfully spiritual gifts), was angered by Tamahoi’s man-devouring ambushes and made a special expedition up the mountain. Once at the top, he stamped his foot until a huge chasm was formed, and into the chasm, he threw Tamahoi, burying him with rock.
Tamahoi lay sleeping for many centuries, until he was summoned by the prayers of another tohunga called Tuhoto. Saddened by the deteriorating standards of his people at Te Wairoa village, Tuhoto prayed to the gods for an answer and was sent Tamahoi, who scattered molten rock and boiling mud over Te Wairoa.
About seven European and more than 100 Māori were killed in the Tarawera eruption. Miraculously Tuhoto survived, and many Māori believe Tamahoi protected the old tohunga and see it as proof Tuhoto was responsible for the eruption.