A Canoe in the Mist – Elsie Locke

Jonathan Cape Ltd 1984

ISBN 0-224-02256-3

A Canoe in the Mist is a true story of strange events and real people.  A hundred years ago, Lillian came with her widowed mother to live in a volcanic wonderland of boiling springs, fierce geysers and bubbling mud pools.  

The day they set off for Rotomahana some very strange things happened.  An enormous wave suddenly lifted the quiet waters of Lake Tarawera, which must first be crossed in the tourist boat.  And what was the mysterious canoe they saw, making for the sacred mountain where chiefs were buried and where legend said that the demon Tama-o-hoi had been locked in a rocky cleft with threats to break out some day?

Was the old sage Tuhoto right in predicting disaster?  After a perfect day at the Terraces, and an interlude when Mattie when with Lillian to the Maori school and made new friends, came a night of fear and terrible destruction.

I first this story back when I was about 10 years old, and I loved it.  It was a magical story about Europeans integrating with an entrepreneurial Maori, and working together.  Cultures mixing and helping one another.  Back then, it wasn’t so much about the culture as it was about the story, a frightenly true story about the eruption of Mt Tarawera and the loss of the 8th Natural wonder of the world, the Pink and White Terraces.

I recently rediscovered this lovely story in the local library, and had to refresh my memory.  Lillian lived at Te Wairoa, in the shadow of Mt Tarawera with her widowed mother.  Lillian attends a local school, set up to educate the local Maori.  Lillian is fortunate enough to meet Maddie, a visitor to the area with her parents.  They are travelling around the world seeing the sights and magic of the primitive lands.  Maddie invited Lillian to go with her on a trip acrossLakeRotomahanato visit the famous terraces and an excited Lillian is allowed to go.  Fortunate for her, as she would be one of the last few people to see the terraces before the eruption which buried them.

Three days later a large earthquake wakes everyone up and they hurry to the one secure place in town, Joe McRae’s hotel.  But even that isn’t secure enough when the volcano erupts and spews ash and mud into the air, followed by “the devils rain” which starts to set fire to many of the buildings in the settlement.

The story follows Lillian and Maddie and the survivors as they make their way to safety.

I loved this story originally because it was real, it happened.  Some of the characters in the book are real people, they lived at Te Wairoa and witnessed the events.  And that is an aspect of the story I still appreciate today.  This story first gave me a look at the beautiful pink and white terraces, something that still fascinates me today.  This book isn’t a young adults book, it is probably set more for the tweens, but is still a good read.


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