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Guide Sophia, the heroine of Tarawera.

Guide Sophia Hinerangi on the Terraces at Lake Rotomahana.

Sophia Hinerangi, also known as Te Paea, was a prominent tourist guide of the Pink and White Terraces at Lake Rotomahana before the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886, and later at Whakarewarewa. She was born in Kororāreka in the early 1830s to Kotiro Hinerangi, a Ngāti Ruanui woman who had possibly been captured by a Nga Puhi raiding party, and Alexander Grey, a Scotsman who had arrived in the Bay of Islands in 1827. Sophia was raised by Charlotte Kemp at the Kerikeri mission station before attending the Wesleyan Native Institution at Three Kings in Auckland.

 

In 1851, Sophia married Koroneho (Colenso) Tehakiroe, with whom she had 14 children. After her second marriage to Hori Taiawhio in 1870, the couple had a further three children and moved to Te Wairoa on the shores of Lake Tarawera, where Sophia became a renowned guide to the world-famous Pink and White Terraces. For 16 years before the 1886 eruption, Sophia was the most famous woman in Rotorua, known as Guide Sophia, the "guide, philosopher, and friend" to thousands of tourists.

 

With the visit to New Zealand by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the popularity of tourists visiting ideal locations such as the Lake Country of the Waikato grew. Local Māori leaders developed tourism industries alongside public accommodations and eventually allowed for surveys by railway companies to increase the tourist traffic. 

The Pink and White terraces before the eruption.


Hinerangi had become one of the most prominent guides of the Pink and White terraces near Te Wairoa, New Zealand. She and another bilingual guide, Kate Middlemass, had been selected by the local hapū, the Tūhourangi, to handle the tours there. These most popular guides, traditionally women with much knowledge of local culture and geography, could receive 15 shillings from each tour party. Hinerangi organized the tours and settled accounts.

 

In late May 1886, while Hinerangi was leading a tour group along Lake Tarawera, the waters receded then rose up again accompanied by a strange sound. She told the local Tohunga that they then saw a waka with ghostly men that vanished as it came toward them - the elder explained that this was a sign that their ancestors were angry for the way the land was being abused by the tourists.

 

On the 10th of June 10 1886 Mt Tarawera erupted. The eruption lasted six hours and caused massive destruction. It destroyed several villages, along with the famous silica hot springs known as the Pink and White Terraces. Approximately 120 people, nearly all Māori, died. A 17-km-long rift split Mt Tarawera and extended as far south as Waimangu. The eruption covered land with millions of tonnes of ash and debris, transformed lakes, and flattened bush. It was over by dawn, though ash made day as dark as night. Men from Rotorua and Ōhinemutu formed rescue parties and began digging out survivors and casualties. 

 

During the morning of June 10 over 60 people took shelter in Sophia's whare at Te Wairoa during the eruption. Her home withstood the destructive power of the eruption due to its high-pitched roof and strong reinforced timber walls, unlike many of the buildings in the village. Tuhoto Ariki, a Tuhourangi tohunga, who had interpreted the warning signs of the lake level falling and rising, accompanied by an eerie whimpering sound, survived the eruption as well.

 

Sophia continued her guiding work when she moved to nearby Whakarewarewa, where she became caretaker of the thermal reserve in 1896. A number of royal parties were among the many that Guide Sophia led through Whakarewarewa. She encouraged a number of local women to become guides, helping to establish this occupation as a lucrative form of employment for Tuhourangi women. Sophia was also heavily involved in the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union, becoming president of the Whakarewarewa branch in 1896. In 1895, she joined George Leitch's Land of the Moa Dramatic Company, playing herself on a tour of Australia.

 

guide Sophia Hinerangi, March 1898

Guide Sophia Hinerangi, March 1898.

Sophia died at Whakarewarewa on December 4, 1911. Her legacy as an intelligent, attractive, bilingual, and knowledgeable guide to the Pink and White Terraces, who also became a friend and philosopher to many, lives on. She played an important role in the establishment of tourism in the Rotorua region and helped to empower Tuhourangi women by encouraging them to become guides. Sophia was known as the 'Heroine of Tarawera' and Sophia Street in Rotorua was named after her.

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