Waimangu Geyser was the world’s most powerful geyser for a time, located near Rotorua in New Zealand. The massive Mount Tarawera eruption created its workings. Due to the black mud and rocks that infiltrated the geyser’s water, the indigenous Māori people named the geyser Waimangu, meaning ‘Black Waters’.The Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley received its name from the geyser located nearby.
During the late 1900s, the Geyser erupted. The eruptions reached up to 1,500 feet in height, and they caught the attention of people all over the world. A tourism trip called the “Round Trip” was offered from 1902-03 to allow day trippers from Rotorua to see the geyser erupt regularly for 5-6 hours out of a 36-hour cycle. Tourism in the Waimangu Valley was sparked by the geyser.
As the world’s largest geyser, it would erupt every 36 hours and reach heights of up to 450 meters. Yellowstone’s Steamboat Geyser is the largest in the world at around 100 meters. Waimangu Geyser was filmed by Joseph Perry of the Salvation Army’s Limelight Department.
A dare led tourist guide Alfred Warbrick to launch a rowboat on the lake in August 1903, measuring the depth at only 48 feet when it measured 260 feet by 430 feet (80 meters by 130 meters). Solid material ejected from the vent was often returned to the lake, contributing to its shallow depth.
As a result of their refusal to return to a safe distance after being requested by Warbrick’s brother Alfred, New Zealand rugby star Joe Warbrick, David McNaughton, and sisters Ruby and Catherine Nicholls were killed on 30 August 1903. A sudden violent eruption swept the four away after they were scalded.
The geyser went dormant in mid-1904, erupting for shorter and weaker periods until 1 November 1904. Lake Tarawera’s water table was changed by several meters as a result of a landslide. Despite being hypothesized as the cause for the extinction of the geyser, later studies found no physical connection between the two. In 1908, the geyser went extinct. In 1915, 1917, and 1924, Echo Crater erupted due to hydrothermal activity.
The eruptions were witnessed by scientist Humphrey Haines, whose wife wrote:
An explosion of unprecedented magnitude followed a small burst. For a moment it appeared to pause, but then its apex burst outward, a torrent of black water streaking downward to meet and disappear in the snowy billows rising majestically above.