Imagine waking to the thought you were under attack from warships, only to look out the window and find ash had made day as dark as night.

Just after midnight, 133 years ago tomorrow, that's exactly what happened after a series of earthquakes led to Mount Tarawera spewing ash and molten lava into the air.

People from Te Arawa lived near the mountain, where Tūhourangi held power over the Tarawera lakes district, including the terraces of Rotomahana.

About 120 people lost their lives in the disaster, nearly all of them Māori.

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Haana Morrison showing off her poi skills for Te Kapahaka o Apumoana performing at Tūhourangi Ahurei. Photo / Ben Fraser
Haana Morrison showing off her poi skills for Te Kapahaka o Apumoana performing at Tūhourangi Ahurei. Photo / Ben Fraser

To commemorate the event, the three marae of Tūhourangi came together today to celebrate life in the way they know best: whakangahau (kapa haka concert).

"It's a chance to get everyone together, from the tamariki right to our nannies and koros," Eraia Kiel, of Te Kapa Haka o Apumoana, said.

"It's about the participation."

Kiel said while there was a small competition, it was more important to bring the wider Tūhourangi whānau together.

Harper Tui Dunn, 3, enjoying the family day at the Buried Village. Photo / Ben Fraser
Harper Tui Dunn, 3, enjoying the family day at the Buried Village. Photo / Ben Fraser

"It's beautiful to get together like this and celebrate life in general and the strength of Tūhourangi."

Before the eruption, the Pink and White Terraces, a major tourist attraction once described as the "Eighth Wonder of the World", had drawn people from all over the world to Tarawera.

Sunrise over Mount Tarawera which once exploded resulting in more than 120 deaths. Photo / File
Sunrise over Mount Tarawera which once exploded resulting in more than 120 deaths. Photo / File

The terraces were destroyed during the eruption, along with the livelihoods of nearby iwi who relied on the visitor trade.

Part of the organising committee for Tūhourangi, Watu Mihinui said it was important to recognise the event because it was the history of who she was and where she had come from.

"We all whakapapa to the people that lived at Tarawera and it is our time to reconnect with each other in a happy way.

"The losses can never be happy but being together strengthens our ties to each other."

Buried Village open day for Mt Tarawera eruption commemoration.

The Buried Village also commemorated the event at the weekend by opening its doors for a koha and creating a family day out.

Squeals of laughter echoed around the village which was filled with families enjoying
packed lunches and absorbing the history of the place.

Zaviah, 6 and Wahanga Wright, 4 enjoyed the family day out at the Buried Village. Photo / Ben Fraser
Zaviah, 6 and Wahanga Wright, 4 enjoyed the family day out at the Buried Village. Photo / Ben Fraser

Operations manager Amanda McGrath said the Buried Village had run the open day for 33 years.

"It's really great for the story to be told because every year people come [here] knowing nothing."

This year the money raised through entry charges will be split between Big Brother Big Sister and Kai Rotorua.

Cousins (from left) Hazel Menzies, 3, Elsie Carlyle, 5 and Nixon Menzies, 2 were excited to explore the attractions. Photo / Ben Fraser
Cousins (from left) Hazel Menzies, 3, Elsie Carlyle, 5 and Nixon Menzies, 2 were excited to explore the attractions. Photo / Ben Fraser

"The carpark has been full since 9am.

"I think it will be the biggest one yet and in turn we hope that gives us a greater amount of money to give back to those charities."

Mount Tarawera eruption

• Took place on June 10, 1886
• Started in early hours of the morning and lasted six hours
• Destroyed several villages and the Pink and White Terraces
• About 120 people died
• People as far away as Blenheim heard the eruption which was accompanied by earthquakes, lightning, fountains of molten rock, and columns of smoke and ash up to 10km high
- Source: NZ History