Visit the sunken Pink and White Terraces. Photo / Supplied, Waimangu Volcanic Valley
June was the month that Aotearoa went Nuclear Free and adventure tourism leapt on to the world stage, writes Thomas Bywater.
June 8 marks the day NZ said “no” to nuclear weapons. In 1987 the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone finally came into law. However, it was arguably part of New Zealand culture long before that. June 1973 was also the month that the peace flotilla and HMNZS Otago sailed to protest French weapons testing in the Pacific, starting years of nuclear-free protesting. Picketing nuclear-armed ships arriving in Auckland harbour became a national sport and inspired generations to take up Aotearoa’s cause for “no nukes”.
It came to a head with the sinking of the Greenpeace boat, the Rainbow Warrior, in 1985. A scandal broke out when it emerged French frogmen were to blame.
The wreck came to rest in the Cavalli Islands, off the coast of Matauri Bay, as part of an artificial reef conservation project.
Today you can visit this piece of nuclear-free history with Paihia Dive. It’s one of the country’s best wreck dives, but you will need to be PADI certified. There is also a Rainbow Warrior memorial on the headlands, a short walk from the Matauri Bay Holiday Park and the Kauri Cliffs Resort.
June saw another important moment for Franco-Kiwi relations. Namely that time AJ Hackett hid in the Eiffel Tower.
On the morning of June 26, 1987, the bungy pioneer jumped off the famous tower in Paris, astounding commuters. He had tipped off a TV crew so the footage was picked up by local channels and, on the “slow news day”, was seen by millions around the world.
The French landmark was identified as the perfect stunt to showcase the sport of bungy jumping but they failed to ask for permission. The small team had taken the last lift up the tower with their equipment and a bottle of champagne and hid in a bar on the second floor of the tower.
At the bottom of the tower, following the jump, Hackett called it:
“One small step for a man, a bloody great leap for the adventure tourism industry.”
Arrested by baffled gendarmes, he was released without charge.
The next year he helped open the first bungy attraction at Kawarau Bridge, near Queenstown. The company has been welcoming French backpackers and other fearless visitors to the sport ever since.
Legacy in lava
It was in the early hours of June 10, 1886, Mt Tarawera erupted.
The volcano near Rotorua, which had lain dormant for centuries, gave little warning.
Shockwaves travelled as far as Blenheim in the South Island and locals in Rotorua were shaken from their beds by earthquakes, lightning and falling magma.
It is thought that 120 people died in the Māori settlements near lakes Rotomahana and Tarawera. A 4km crater was ripped in the side of the mountain, destroying the natural hot pools at the Pink and White Terraces. The pools had been the focus of New Zealand’s fledgling tourism industry, attracting monied Victorians. At the time – were you to ask someone in Paris or London what they knew of New Zealand, they’d likely not have named kiwis or kapa haka, but the thermal pools of Rotomahana.
The “eighth wonder of the world” was lost to posterity; however there are many other sites that still tell the story of that violent night.
Explore the world’s youngest geothermal park at The Waimangu Volcanic Valley and take a boat to see the area of the submerged terraces.
Head to the Buried Village at Tarawera, where you can see the excavations and learn the stories of those caught in the eruption.
Or you can even travel to the crater of Mt Tarawera with Kaitiaki Adventures, by foot or heli hike.