New Zealand volcanoes and the Taupō Volcanic Zone
New Zealand lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of increased geological activity that circles the Pacific Ocean and contains about 90 per cent of the world’s volcanoes. There are three types of volcanoes found in New Zealand, cone volcanoes (e.g. Mount Ruapehu), caldera volcanoes (e.g. Lake Taupō), and volcanic fields.
Most New Zealand volcano activity in the last 1.6 million years has occurred in the Taupō Volcanic Zone (TVZ). The zone extends from Whakaari/White Island to Ruapehu. The Taupō Volcanic Zone is extremely active on a world scale: it includes three frequently active cone volcanoes (Ruapehu, Tongariro/Ngauruhoe, Whakaari/White Island), and two of the most productive calderas in the world (Okataina and Taupō).
Volcanoes can produce a wide variety of hazards including:
- Ash and falling rock debris
- Very fast-moving mixtures of hot gases and volcanic rock (base surges)
- Lava flows (fire fountaining)
- Lahars (volcanic mudflows)
For information on eruption hazards specific to Mt Ruapehu and Mt Tongariro, refer to the maps in the drop-down section below.
Volcanic Activity Bulletins
Volcano Activity Bulletins (VABs) issued by GeoNet are New Zealand's official source of volcano status information including the current Volcanic Alert Level (VAL). The bulletins are issued on an as-needed basis summarising the volcano status and recent events.
Check out the maps below to learn more about the volcanic hazards on and around Mt Ruapehu and Mt Tongariro.
If you live in an area at risk from volcanic ash falls, take the following steps to reduce volcanic impacts:
✔️ Make buildings as airtight as possible, to exclude ash.
✔️ Ensure rain gutters are well-maintained, kept clear of debris, and securely attached. Gutters are prone to collapse from ash loading.
✔️ If your household uses roof-collected rainwater tanks, consider installing first-flush diverters to reduce ash entering water tanks.
✔️ Ensure galvanised steel roof cladding is well-maintained and painted/coated to be more resistant to corrosion from volcanic ash, gases and aerosols.
✔️ Design buildings with steeply pitched roofs to help shed ash to reduce risk of roof collapse. This is primarily an issue for buildings in Tongariro and Taranaki National Parks.
✔️ Seal any openings in water tanks (e.g. poorly-fitted covers) to prevent the entry of ash.
Specialist advice to reduce the impacts of volcanic activity is also available for:
- Lifeline and city managers (on the GNS Science website)
- Agriculture and forestry (on the Ministry for Primary Industries’ website)
- Siting new projects and facilities in areas prone to volcanic hazards (on the ThinkHazard! website)
If you are at risk from volcanic ash fall, you should add the following to your emergency supplies:
✔️ Properly-fitted effective dust masks (rated P2 or N95) and goggles without side vents.
- Be aware that masks can make breathing more difficult for some people. Speak to your doctor if you are unsure if you should wear a mask.
- Adult masks do not fit smaller children well, so may offer little protection
- You can learn how to fit a dust mask correctly on the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN) website.
✔️ Plastic wrap or plastic sheeting (to keep ash out of electronics).
✔️ Cleaning supplies, including an air duster (available at hardware stores), a broom, a shovel, and spare bags and filters for your vacuum cleaner.
You could be stuck in your vehicle, so remember to store emergency supplies there.
Protecting your health
If you or your dependents have any respiratory conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or chronic bronchitis, be aware that you are at higher risk of experiencing ill effects from airborne volcanic ash, gas and aerosols.
- If you have asthma, ensure you have a current asthma action plan. This written set of instructions, prepared by your doctor, is essential to help you recognise if your asthma is worsening and what to do about it.
- If you have respiratory or heart conditions, keep your relief and preventer medications handy and use as prescribed. If you have any concerns, call your doctor.
- Further information on respirator protection in ash fall, including how to fit a dust mask correctly, is available on the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN) website.
Expect power outages as ashfall can lead to power cuts. These may have implications for health due to lack of heating or other infrastructural requirements that depend on electricity.
If you or a member of your whare/household is dependent on critical electrical equipment (such as a ventilator) you should ensure your electricity retailer is aware and you have plans in place to deal with any power outages.
Information for medically dependent electricity consumers is available on the Electricity Authority website.
If there is volcanic activity, follow official advice provided by:
- Taupo District Civil Defence (learn how to stay informed) or your local Civil Defence Emergency Management Group
- Department of Conservation (for visitors to the Tongariro and Taranaki National Parks)
- local authorities and emergency services.
If a volcano is active, minimise your time in the summit region and valleys. During volcanic activity, near-volcano hazards may be present. These can be highly destructive and dangerous up to 20 kilometres (km) from the volcano. In rare cases, near-volcano hazards may reach beyond 20 km.
If you are in an exposed area and become aware of near-volcano hazards, the best way to protect yourself is to quickly move (run or drive if you can) as far away as possible from the volcano.
If you cannot leave the area, try and do the following:
- Seek shelter and cover your nose, mouth, and exposed skin to protect yourself from ashfall and pyroclastic flows
- Seek shelter and cover your head with your pack to protect yourself from ballistics
- Avoid valleys and low-lying areas – getting to higher ground may reduce your exposure to lava flows and lahar
If there has been a volcanic eruption in New Zealand, GeoNet will provide ash fall forecasts and these will be communicated in the media.
If ash fall has been forecast in your area:
- Before ash fall starts, if possible, go home to avoid exposure to, and driving during, ash fall.
- Move pets and pet water bowls indoors.
- If you have respiratory or heart conditions, keep your relief and preventer medication handy, and use as prescribed. If you have any concerns, call your doctor.
- Take steps to keep ash out of your house:
- Set up a single entry/exit point for your house. Place damp towels by the door to prevent ash being tracked indoors on your shoes.
- Close all remaining doors and windows.
- Close other entry points, such as cat doors and air vents.
- Shut down heat pumps and air conditioning units, to prevent ash from being blown indoors, and to prevent ash from damaging the units by clogging filters and corroding metal.
- Cover electronics and leave covered until the indoor environment is free of ash.
- Move vehicles and machinery under cover (if possible), or cover them, to avoid ash-causing corrosion damage.
- Cover spa pools and swimming pools, as ash can clog filters.
- Disconnect downpipes from gutters, to allow ash and water to empty from gutters onto the ground.
- Disconnect roof catchment rainwater storage tanks from downpipes, to prevent contamination.
- Seal any openings in water storage tanks (e.g. poorly-fitted covers), to prevent the entry of ash.
- Cover any open gully traps or drains with a sheet of plywood or similar, to prevent ash from entering the wastewater or stormwater systems.
- Cover vegetable gardens with tarpaulins, to prevent ash contamination.
Further information on how to prepare for ash fall is available on the International Volcanic Ash Impacts website.
- Move livestock to shelter, where possible. Airborne ash can cause eye and skin irritation and accumulate in sheep fleece.
- Ensure that animals have supplementary feed. Ash ingestion can be hazardous to livestock. It can cause physical problems such as tooth abrasion and gut blockages and toxicity problems such as fluorosis.
- Ensure livestock have access to clean drinking water. Cover open water troughs with a sheet of plywood or similar, to avoid contamination by ash fall.
- Further information on protecting livestock from ash fall is available on the Ministry for Primary Industries and International Volcanic Ash Impacts websites.
During ash fall
- Stay indoors.
- Keep pets indoors.
- Do not attempt to clear ash from your roof while ash is falling.
- Avoid non-essential driving. If you have to drive, drive slowly, maintain a safe following distance behind other traffic, use headlights on low beam, and avoid using wipers as ash can scratch windscreens.
- Put your emergency plan into action.
- Stay informed and follow any instructions from emergency services, the Department of Conservation (for visitors to the Tongariro and Taranaki National Parks), local authorities and Civil Defence Emergency Management.
- Do not use unflued gas heaters indoors while your house is sealed to keep out ash, as there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Learn more on the Ministry of Health website.
- Never use outdoor gas appliances indoors.
Continue to follow official advice provided by Civil Defence, the Department of Conservation (for visitors to the Tongariro and Taranaki National Parks), local authorities, and emergency services.
- Stay out of designated restricted zones.
- If you have been evacuated, do not return home until told it is safe to do so.
- Keep children indoors and discourage playing in ash.
- Keep animals indoors until ash is cleaned up or washed away. If pets go outside, brush ash from their paws and fur before letting them back indoors.
- Check on your neighbours and anyone who might need your help.
Be prepared for further ash falls and accumulation.
Be careful driving as the reduction in visibility from airborne ash may cause accidents. This danger is compounded by ash covering roads. Not only are road markings covered up, but thin layers of ash are very slippery, reducing traction. Thick deposits of ash may make roads impassable, cutting off communities from basic supplies.
Cleaning up ash
It is important to clean up ash promptly from homes and neighbourhoods, as it is a potential health hazard and can cause damage to buildings and machinery. Be aware that:
- Ash clean-up is physically demanding and time-consuming. You may require assistance with ash clean-up and disposal.
- Repeated cleaning or multiple clean-ups may be necessary.
Water restrictions will likely be in force after ash fall. Use water very sparingly to avoid depleting treated water supplies. As always, follow any advice and instructions about water use issued by Taupō District Council and Civil Defence.
Further information on how to clean up ash is available on the International Volcanic Ash Impacts website.