Editorial: Buried treasure

Last updated 05:00 05/02/2011

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New Zealand had a eureka moment this week, and the implications of it are likely to resonate for years.

The discovery of the remnants of the pink and white terraces under 60m of water at the bottom of Lake Rotomahana near Rotorua is arguably the most significant scientific discovery made in this country in decades.

The terraces were considered the eighth wonder of the world until they disappeared in the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.

The discovery of what is believed to be the lower two steps of the pink terraces has solved the riddle of whether the terraces were completely obliterated by the eruption. Clearly, a good portion survived. The joint research team who discovered the remains think there may be up to 80m of the terraces under the lake, and there is still a huge amount of work to be done to explore the remains. There could be more under the lake.

The news made headlines around the world, and predictably caused huge ripples in the scientific world. The fact that this buried treasure has been sitting under our feet for 125 years, and there could be much more down there, makes the discovery all the more tantalising.

The terraces represent much more than a scientific curiosity. In the 19th century they were the genesis for tourism in this country, the forerunner of everything from jet boating to whale watch tours.

For local iwi they represent a terrible tragedy. In the early hours of June 10 1886 the peace was shattered by a series of massive eruptions that buried local settlements, taking more than 100 lives and injuring many others.

The discovery raises a lot of challenges. Local iwi have a potential new tourism drawcard on their hands, but how do you exploit something that lies beneath 60m of water? Can it be done sensitively?

The researchers also found there could be potential for geothermal power generation from the lake, which could be a possible moneyspinner for the region.

There can be no excuses for mucking this great opportunity up. New Zealand is already good at tourism, and the terraces could be the next big thing.

Ngai Tahu's whale watch venture at Kaikoura shows how business savvy iwi can successfully harness the potential of tourism with minimal environmental impact.

We have a good example closer to home. For years South Canterbury had been figuratively sitting on its Maori Rock Art treasure. The opening of Te Ana Ngai Tahu Rock Art Centre in Timaru last year means our treasure is now there for all to see.

New Zealand's new Pompei has huge potential, and it will be great to see it realised.

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- The Timaru Herald

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