On the 131st anniversary of the Mount Tarawera eruption a new research paper claims to have found the location of the Pink and White Terraces.

However a local kaumatua is sceptical, saying he doesn't think anyone will find the terraces.

Researchers Rex Bunn and Dr Sascha Nolden are preparing a full archaeological site investigation with hopes the terraces might be returned to public view.

The terraces, an eighth wonder of the world, were lost during the 1886 eruption which killed about 120 people and buried the village of Te Wairoa in mud.

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Mr Bunn, who grew up on the East Coast, spent his childhood summers and Easters on the shores of Lake Rotomahana.

For the past 20 years he has lived at Lake Okareka with a view straight out over Mt Tarawera.

"I pursue inter-disciplinary research projects, where specialists either haven't ventured or where specialists for whatever reasons haven't succeeded," he said.

"I began the terraces project in 2014 while researching the Pink and White Terraces for an artist."

In February 2016 Mr Bunn met his co-author Dr Nolden and received the diary of 19th century geologist Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter.

Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter in his cabin on the frigate Novara, painted by Josef Selleny in 1857. Photo/Supplied
Dr Ferdinand von Hochstetter in his cabin on the frigate Novara, painted by Josef Selleny in 1857. Photo/Supplied

Completed in 1859 the diary contained survey bearings for Lake Rotomahana and the terraces prior to the eruption.

Dr Nolden translated the diary and enabled Mr Bunn to plot the lost terrace locations.

"It took me until Easter that year, working night and day, to analyse the diary data and develop an algorithm which could be used to reverse engineer his records and enable us to resect his compass survey data and fix the co-ordinates of the lost Pink and White Terraces," Mr Bunn said.

"Over 2016-2017, we worked through four survey iterations before arriving at the locations described in the new paper."

The three terrace spring locations have been plotted beneath land, and not under Lake Rotomahana as imagined by 19th century colonists.

The co-ordinates for the spring platforms, Te Otukapuarangi, Te Tuhi's Spring and Te Tarata appear to lie 10m to 15m underground, around the shores of the lake.

The only surviving part of the old lake is the shoreline between the locations of the Pink and White Terraces.

Hochstetter's method-of-squares map warped over Google Maps, showing Te Tuhi's Spring. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Hochstetter's method-of-squares map warped over Google Maps, showing Te Tuhi's Spring. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Having established what they believe to be the lost terrace locations, Mr Bunn and Dr Nolden are recommending a full archaeological site investigation.

Final proof of the terraces' survival may be obtained via ground penetrating radar and core-drilling.

Core samples of terrace material can then be analysed to provide conclusive evidence whether or not the terraces survived the eruption.

The authors anticipate this will lead to excavation of the sites with the ultimate goal of returning the historical sites to the New Zealand landscape.

"With the help and involvement of the traditional landowners, the next priorities are archaeological," Mr Bunn said.

"Perhaps then, the terraces might be returned to public view.

"For example via a new walkway which in my view would rival the Tongariro Crossing in popularity."

The authors propose the site be listed on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero as an iconic New Zealand cultural and heritage site.

However Tuhourangi kaumatua Anaru Rangiheuea said this conversation had been brought up a lot over the years and he was sceptical about the latest research findings.

"They won't find the terraces," he said.

"A few years back we worked with geologists who thought they could see remnants of them, but to recover them is virtually impossible."

Mr Rangiheuea said he would like to harness the energy created underground to create a spa memorial to those who lost their lives in the eruption.

"For us it's a history that's long gone," he said.

"It is important for us to pass on our history and to tell our young people what happened at Tarawera 131 years ago."

He said as far as he knew, the researchers had not yet spoken to Tuhourangi representatives about their plans.

The research paper Forensic cartography with Hochstetter's 1859 Pink and White Terraces survey: Te Otukapuarangi and Te Tarata was published this week in the Journal of the Royal Society.