An Australian woman has been seriously injured after falling into a geothermal sinkhole that opened up in a popular tourist village in New Zealand.
The woman fell into the two meter wide fumarole when it suddenly opened onto a footpath near the entrance to the Whakarewarewa spa village in Rotorua in the central North Island.
Village chief executive Mike Gibbons said the woman’s husband was also injured trying to help her out of the hole.
“The first attempt to get her out was made by her husband, which is why he got injured as well,” Gibbons said.
Two nearby guides and a local weaver all ran to help her and “collectively managed to pull her out of the hole”.
The woman was taken to hospital in Rotorua, where she was in serious but stable condition on Friday morning. Her husband is said to be in moderate condition.
Gibbons said he “understood the couple were from Perth, Australia, and had been visiting family in New Zealand.”
Fumaroles are geothermal sinkholes that emit steam and volcanic gases, often at extreme temperatures of up to 400°C.
Whakarewarewa Spa Village is a Maori village as well as a tourist attraction. Some of its geothermal hot pools are used for swimming and bathing, but others reach temperatures of 100C-200C and are used for cooking.
The hole was about a meter deep and may have opened up due to recent heavy rains.
“The ground may have been compromised after the recent heavy rains,” Gibbons said. He said everyone who lived and worked in the village was “distressed” by the incident.
“Our thoughts are with the family and especially the lady,” he said. Staff and villagers had held prayers that morning.
The village will be temporarily closed until a full investigation and assessment has been undertaken by Worksafe – New Zealand’s health and safety regulator – and the local council.