A phantom canoe was sighted on Lake Tarawera just days before the eruption of Mount Tarawera in June 1886. The Māori guides and tourists who witnessed it told of a waka ‘being vigorously paddled’ towards the mountain. Hailed by the guides, the crew gave no response and then vanished. The apparition was seen as a sign of imminent death and disaster.
Kennett Watkins’s interpretation, two years after the event, dramatically enriches the narrative. While eyewitness accounts varied in their detail, they all claimed that the event occurred during the day. Watkins turns it into a spectral vision at night, the mountain ominously surrounded by cloud and silhouetted by the moon. A zigzag of lightning cuts through the sky, adding to the sense of danger. The sole witness sits in his canoe in the shadows.