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The Story of Mount Tarawera

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The Story of Mount Tarawera

Before 10 June Eruption

Humans from all around the world would come in crowds to see the legendary Pink and White Terraces – once named the 8th wonder of the world. Although it was a long journey, they couldn’t get enough of what they saw making this area a tourism “hot spot” so, in 1873, hotels were built to house the visitors coming near and far, it has been estimated that the annual income for village residents reached £4000 each during these times.

The Eruption

In the early hours of 10 June, people awoke to earthquakes, lighting, and fountains of molten lava and columns of smoke and ash that rose as high as 10 km. The eruption lasted six hours and caused enormous destruction with approximately 120 people losing their life. 17 km - long rift split Mt Tarawera continued as far as Waimangu, covering the land with millions of tonnes of ash and debris, an entire village was buried known today as the buried village which is a popular tourist attraction. Lakes were changed, bushes were crushed and a new geothermal valley was created with the eruption of Mt Tarawera being recorded the largest in New Zealand where the roar of the eruption could be heard as far as Christchurch!

The legend of Mt Tarawera – The Phantom Canoe

The story begins in the eerie shadow of Mt Tarawera, with its “burnt peak” where the mountain casts a ghostly shadow in the wintry sun. Despite the eeriness of that morning, the accounts from eyewitnesses aboard the tourist vessel were all clear and consistent.

"The watchers had no difficulty in discerning the phantom craft's double row of occupants, one row paddling and the other standing wrapped in flax robes, their heads bowed and, according to Maori eyewitnesses, their hair plumed as for death with the feathers of the huia and the white heron. To the terrified Maori aboard the tourist vessel, these were the souls of the departed being ferried to the mountain of the dead. But all local Maori knew there was no war canoe on the lake, and no such craft, ever existed.
If not for multiple eyewitness accounts and evidence, the story of the phantom canoe would have remained just another story of embellishment or legend." --- Ronald Jones 


Tarawera Today

Today, Lake Tarawera is oneof 18 clean and pristine lakes in the Rotorua region among charming scenery and lies underneath the remarkable Mount Tarawera itself. Several walking tracks surround lake Tarawera, including the spectacular Tarawera Falls, plunging 65 meters down the cliff face that was believed to be shaped from the poring larva of the Tarawera eruption. 

Globally Explosive - New Zealand’s World-Famous Volcanology

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Here at Aerius Helicopters we’re big on volcanos – and not just because of their explosive qualities. We live and breathe volcanic speak. Our country’s rich and diverse tectonic roots and eruptive activity not only provide us with clues about our ancestors and genealogy, but also position us high up on the global stage. We’re a volcanic nation through and through, here’s why:

Most Active and Exclusive

White Island is not only New Zealand’s most active volcano, scientists predict it has most probably been active since the arrival of our Maori ancestors between 1250–1300 AD. Today, White Island is one of the few privately owned volcanoes in the world. After a series of changing hands throughout the 1800s, White Island was purchased by stockbroker Raymond Buttle in 1936. Today, the Buttle Family Trust owns the island.

Most Explosive

New Zealand can lay claim to the world’s largest known eruption in the past 70,000 years. Taupo’s Oruanui eruption occurred approximately 26,500 years ago, depositing over 1000 kilometres of volcano materials – much of central North Island was 200 metres deep in ignimbrite. Ash fall affected the entire country, even spreading as far as the Chatham Islands which are located 1000 kilometres away from the eruption zone.

Most Damaging

The Land of Milk and Honey – as New Zealand is fondly known – was once home to the eighth wonder of the world – Lake Rotomahana’s famous Pink and White terraces. Mount Tarawera’s eruption on June 10th 1886 spread 16,000 kilometres of ash and debris, destroying the terraces and three villages. The stunning terraces had formed naturally over 500 years from bubbling silica rich water flowing down hillsides, which cooled and crystallised at the base forming giant staircases. Local people would bath in the lower levels of the terrace-like basins where the water temperature was lukewarm. Recent scientific analysis and study has concluded that the terraces – or what remains of them – are most likely buried somewhere in the middle of the lake and not on land.

Most Productive

The Taupo Volcanic Zone isn’t just famous for its ginormous eruption of old, today it holds the title of the world’s most productive region of silicic – or igneous rich rock – volcanic activity. Stretching all the way from Mount Ruapehu through Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, Lake Taupo, through Whakamaru, through the Rotorua volcanic complex and 85 kilometres beyond White Island, the TVZ is approximately 350 kilometres long and 50 kilometres in width.

If you're interested in experiencing the natural beauty of White Island, check out our White Island flight and flight and tours.

White Island a Must on Your New Zealand Travel Itinerary

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Sputtering, steaming, stunning White Island is undoubtedly one of the NZ’s top travel destinations. Set off the east coast of New Zealand close to Tauranga, there are only two ways of accessing White Island – air or sea. We reckon any trip to the Bay of Plenty isn’t complete without a helicopter flight to White Island, and here’s why:

It’s NZ’s Most Active Volcano

As a nation of volcanoes, every visitor to New Zealand should see a volcano during their travels. And if you’re going to see one, why not make it NZ’s most active volcano? With around 35 eruptions since 1826, White Island is the most roaring, steaming, breathing volcano in the country, and that’s pretty damn cool!

Scenic Views

The sights of the Bay of Plenty from above are out of this world. By taking a helicopter flight from Tauranga to White Island, you get a bird’s eye view of Mount Maunganui before heading over to White Island where you’ll be amazed by the rugged crater lake, dramatic landscape and bubbling mud.

Learn About Geothermal

There are few places in the world where you can witness the natural wonder of geothermal activity first-hand. If you decide to do the helicopter flight and guided tour, you’ll also hear fascinating commentary and even get the chance to walk on the volcano itself.

Experience a Helicopter Ride

If you haven’t been on a chopper before, it’s definitely something to add to your bucket list. Unlike flying on a plane, helicopter flights let you get much closer to the action and give you vista views of the surrounding scenery. Whether you’re a first-timer or a helicopter veteran, it’s an experience like no other.

Walk on the Moon – Sort Of

With its rocky landscape, craters, steam and sulphur-green lakes, walking on White Island can feel like walking on the moon. And since you have to wear a gas mask and hard hat while on the island, you’ll feel like a true astronaut!

A Piece of NZ History

If you are a history buff, all the more reason to venture out to White Island. Early on, it was a significant site of seabirds and sulphur for Maori; it was discovered and named by Captain Cook; then in the 1880s, Europeans started mining White Island for sulphur. Take the helicopter flight and tour if you want to walk amongst the sulphur mine’s corroded ruins.

See Wildlife

There’s no guarantee, but seeing wildlife in the deep blue sea below the helicopter is not unusual. Travellers on the helicopter flight to White Island have seen dolphins, seals, whales, schools of fish and plenty of birds.

Bang for your Buck

It isn’t cheap, but the helicopter flight trips from Tauranga to White Island are great value for money. We’re going to go out on a limb and claim that a White Island helicopter trip isn’t only the best tour in the Bay of Plenty, but in all of NZ! 

Discover the Sacred History of Mount Tarawera

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One cold starlit night in 1886, the earth around Rotorua began to shake. By around 2:30 am Mount Tarawera's three peaks had split open and were launching tonnes of ash, mud and molten rock over the surrounding landscape. Eyewitnesses later reported that a huge column of fire was seen shooting up into the air with a roar that was heard as far away as Auckland and Christchurch.

One of this country's earliest tourist attractions, the spectacular Pink and White Terraces were on the shores of Lake Rotomahana, below Mt Tarawera. The terraces were the two largest formations of silica sinter – a fine-grained version of quartz – ever known to have existed. They were extraordinarily beautiful and often referred to as "the Eighth Wonder of the World".

Tour of Mt Tarawera

Following the eruption, many villages were completely buried with few or no survivors. It is estimated that about 150 people died. The famed Terraces were also thought to have been completely destroyed however exciting new research has found remnants of them far below the lake's surface.

Evidence of the ancient explosion's violence and power can still clearly be seen today, especially in views from the air. Many of the lakes surrounding the mountain were dramatically altered and the blast left a 17km-long gash running through the mountain. The massive rift runs southwestwards beneath the lake and beyond, creating the world's youngest geothermal area, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Today this valley is a hotspot of incredible geothermal activity.

A scenic flight of Mt Tarawera and Rotorua lakes is the best way to get a sense of the scale of the explosion and experience nature's awesome power and beauty. Find out more about the options for helicopter tours by Aerius Helicopters, departing from Tauranga Airport.


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Aerius Helicopters features in top attractions in Rotorua region

There are dozens of different ways to experience Rotorua - in fact, the city is a tourist paradise, with myriad attractions competing for the attention of both international and local visitors alike. It takes a lot to cut through the crowd and stand out as an exceptional Rotorua experience, but that’s just what Aerius Helicopters have managed to do.

The company, which provides both scenic and commercial helicopter flights alongside premium package experiences, was recently highlighted in an article that appeared on

The article, which singled out 10 Rotorua attractions that stood head and shoulders above the rest, praised the unique perspective that Aerius is able to provide. Kristof Haines, content editor for Motorhome Republic, said “There are so many tours and attractions in Rotorua that it was really hard to pick just ten, but right from the get go I knew that Aerius Helicopters needed to make the list. They provide visitors with an entirely different viewpoint of this visually striking landscape, which is something that not many others even attempt.”

Mr Haines went on to say that the rich variety offered by an Aerius flight was another factor in the tour company’s top ten inclusion. “Yes, you get to see Rotorua from the air, but you also get a fantastic look at the coastal area around Tauranga and a great view of Mount Tarawera. It’s that diversity that really sets Aerius Helicopters apart.”

Aerius Helicopter flights depart from the beautiful Tauranga area and can take visitors not only over the Rotorua lakes, but along the coast of the sunny Bay of Plenty and even out to White Island, an active volcano set 52 kilometres offshore. Not only do Aerius Helicopters do flyovers of this magnificent smoking island, tourists can even choose to touch down for a crater landing and a tour around the volatile landscape.

The Top 10 can be viewed here


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Go Travel Magazine's latest issue is out now. Click on the link and goto page 106 to read about our White Island tours.


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As we head towards the colder months, the team at Aerius Helicopters can start to relax after what has been a very busy and exciting summer.

Our White Island flights and tours have been a very popular option for many tourists and locals. Everyone is blown away by the experience of White Island.

Local scenic flights and our Mills Reef wine tasting tour have been a hit with the many visitors arriving by cruise ship.

We have flown many brides and grooms to their wedding venues around the Bay of Plenty and even as far as Taupo. We have had a few wedding proposals during our Mayor Island Picnics.

The agricultural and commercial helicopter flights side of the business have been busy. Our most recent commercial job was flying a spa pool into a cliff face property in Tauranga's CBD. Spa delivered in a few minutes without a hitch.

A big thank you to all our customers and look forward to meeting many more in the coming months.


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Aerius Helicopters is excited to announce that we have now secured landing rights for land based tours to White Island from Tauranga! If you would like to explore this fascinating active volcano, get in touch with us today!


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This morning we had to lay four runs of orchard shelter cloth. Each run was 260 meters in length and had to be lifted straight up before it was lowered into place across the orchard. As you can see from the photos its a long way up and you can see the effect the wind has on the cloth. We were told to lay these four rows by hand would normally take them 2-3 days, using the helicopter it took less than an hour.



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In early March Aerius Helicopters were involved with the filming of local movie, The Z Nail Gang.

Based on the mining protests in the Coromandel in the 1980s, the movie trailer can be viewed below.


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