Lake Rotomahana, North Island, New Zealand

Lake Locations:

New Zealand - North Island - Rotorua -

The Eighth Wonder of the World was the description conferred upon Lake Rotomahana’s geothermal “Pink and White Terraces.” The terraces were New Zealand’s most famous attraction for intrepid tourists in the mid-19th century, until the massive volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera on June 10, 1886 destroyed them and buried two villages. The arduous journey from the nearest town, Rotorua, required travelers to ride by horse and cart across hills, by canoe for two hours, and finally by foot to view this natural wonder. Their photographs, postcards, and paintings are all that remain to remind us of the splendor of these natural masterpieces.

The geothermal Pink and White Terraces formed over thousands of years by two geysers spouting above Lake Rotomahana. The geysers’ waters were laced with silica that cascaded down the hillside, forming pink and white terraces with pools of water at the bottom. The white terraces, known as the tattooed rock, covered seven acres and descended almost 100 feet. The smaller pink terraces, known as fountain of the clouded sky, were where people enjoyed a thermal bath that left their skin soft and refreshed.

The terraces vanished with the 1886 Tarawera eruption. Hot mud, red hot boulders, and black ash killed an estimated 150 people, mostly native Maori and several Europeans. Although Mount Tarawera is now dormant, the eruption substantially altered the geography of Lake Rotomahana. This lake and Lake Tarawera emptied during the eruption, refilling afterwards to form larger lakes. Lake Rotomahana is now 20 times its original size and today covers about 2,224 acres. It lays claim as the deepest lake in New Zealand’s North Island and the newest of this country’s larger, naturally formed lakes. It is still thermally active with geothermal fields, hot bubbling springs, and steam escaping from the cliffs. It’s no wonder that Rotomahana means “warm lake.”

A pervasive Maori legend tells of the phantom canoe of Rotomahana. A boat full of tourists returning from the terraces spotted a war canoe (waka) approaching their boat nine days before the eruption. The war canoe vanished into thin air before reaching the tourists. Although skeptics explained the sighting as a freak reflection on the mist or a freak wave caused by seismic activity, tribal elders at Te Wairoa (The Buried Village) claimed it was a waka wairua (spirit canoe) to warn the village of impending doom. Today, many locals still believe that a reappearance of the phantom canoe will signal a future eruption. The Buried Village is open to the public with excavated ruins and a museum displaying recovered relics and the history of the eruption.

Lake Rotomahana is one of 16 Rotorua Lakes in the Lake District of New Zealand’s North Island, all of which are volcanic in origin. Access to Lake Rotomahana requires a forestry permit, available from the Forestry Corporation Information Centre. Perhaps the best way to appreciate the lake’s beauty and unique ecosystem is by a guided tourist cruise, which provides the closest encounters with the graveyard of the Pink and White Terraces, including hot springs, geysers, fumeroles, steaming cliffs, and a volcanic crater.

The Rotorua Lakes offer up excellent fishing, mainly rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout. Lake Rotomahana boasts having the “purest strain of rainbow trout in the world.” The lake is popular with anglers due to its remoteness, beautiful scenery, and excellent rainbow trout fishing. Anglers must also obtain a forestry permit before launching onto the lake. Although the lake has no boat ramps, boats can be launched from the hard lake bed surface at the end of a well-marked access road.

Today, tourists to New Zealand can visit a smaller version of the Pink and White Terraces, approximately 60 miles south of Lake Rotomahana near Lake Taupo. The original Wairakei Terraces and geysers disappeared with the construction of the Wairakei Geothermal Power Plant in the 1950s. A cooperative effort between Contact Energy and local Maori re-created the terraces with a man-made geyser originating at the Wairakei geothermal power plant. Hot silica-enriched waters channeled over man-made foundations created new silica terraces. Although helped by human intervention, Mother Nature is perfecting cascading terraces in dramatic pinks, whites, and blues. Guided and self-guided tours are available.

Lake Rotomahana has been protected from development, so it will remain a natural wilderness and wildlife refuge where both native and exotic birds live year round. Patiti Island, in the middle of the lake, is undergoing restoration as a predator-free sanctuary for endangered New Zealand native birds. Steps such as these should secure the future of Lake Rotomahana as an unspoiled national treasure.

Things to do at Lake Rotomahana

  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Museum
  • Ruins

Fish species found at Lake Rotomahana

  • Brook Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Lake Rotomahana Photo Gallery

Lake Rotomahana Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 2,224 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,112 feet

Average Depth: 197 feet

Maximum Depth: 410 feet

Drainage Area: 32 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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