Volcanic risk in Tongariro National Park

Te Maari eruption 21 November 2012. Photo: Neil Faussett.
Te Maari eruption 21 November 2012

Tongariro National Park is an active volcanic area, and eruptions from any of the three volcanoes can happen at any time without warning.

If you are hiking or climbing within the active volcanic hazard zones when an eruption happens, you could be in danger from eruption hazards.

Eruption hazards

In an eruption you could be in danger of:

  • Flying rocks
  • Fast moving burning clouds
  • Lahars (flash floods)
  • Falling ash
  • Volcanic gases

If you are not comfortable with the risk, turn back before you enter the Volcanic Hazard Zones (the area around the active vents on Mount Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu).

You enter the active zones at your own risk - move quickly through. Are you prepared to take the risk?

What to do if there is an eruption

  • Stop, watch for burning ash clouds and flying rocks.
  • Run away from the path of fast moving burning clouds.
  • Otherwise find shelter behind something - banks, ridges or in hollows.
  • Don’t turn away from flying rocks unless you are sure they won’t hit you.
  • Evacuate out of the Hazard Zone and away from the eruption site.

Electronic light sign at the Ketetahi parking area.
Electronic light sign at Ketetahi car park

Electronic signs on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Current status at 18 January 2014 GREEN (updated when volcano status changes)

There are two sets of electronic signs:

  • Each side of the Te Maari Active Volcanic Hazard Zone. These signs have one red light. If the light is flashing, the track is closed through this Zone. Turn around and go back the way you came.

  • Mangatepopo and Ketetahi parking areas. These signs have three lights: red, yellow and green.
    • Red flashing means track closed - volcanic risk too high for track to be open
    • Yellow means elevated risk - volcanic risk higher than normal but track still open
    • Green flashing means track open - volcanic risk normal but not zero

Electronic light sign at Active Volcanic Hazard Zone on the track. Photo: Adrift Outdoors.
Electronic light sign at Active Volcanic
Hazard Zone on the track

The lights are turned off at 6 pm to save power, except the Ketetahi light which turns off at 8 pm. They turn on at 5:30 am (car parks) or 7 am (Active Volcanic Hazard Zone).

The lights are changed when seismicity or other monitored parameters indicate volcanic unrest has changed.

Volcanic Hazard Zones

Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe

Mount Tongariro has two active volcanic vents - Te Maari Crater and Red Crater. Mount Ngauruhoe is an active volcanic vent. There are Volcanic Hazard Zones around all these vents.

Te Maari has an Active Volcanic Hazard Zone within a 3 km radius of the upper craters.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Tongariro Northern Circuit

Te Maari Active Volcanic Hazard Zone escape routes.
Te Maari Active Volcanic Hazard Zone
escape routes and rāhui (View larger (PDF, 105K)

Both tracks pass through these Volcanic Hazard Zones. Even when these tracks are open, volcanic risk exists.

Avoiding the Volcanic Hazard Zone

If you wish to walk on Mount Tongariro but avoid the active Volcanic Hazard Zone around Te Maari, these are the points where you should turn back:

  • If walking from Mangatepopo, either at the top of Red Crater or at Emerald Lakes
  • If walking from Ketetahi, where the track emerges from the forest

Rāhui at Te Maari craters

Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro, who have Manawhenua (territorial rights) over these lands, have delared a Rāhui (protective restriction) on entering this area. This upholds a traditional Maori custom (Tikanga Māori) which respects the Mana (prestige) of the Maunga (mountain) and to ensure the safety and protection of all people entering the area.

The Rahui extends across a 1 km radius around the Te Maari eruption site, as indicated on the map above. Do not enter this area.

Te Rūnanganui o Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro
Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro te Hapu
Ngāti Tuwharetoa te Iwi

Mt Ruapehu in eruption 1996. Photo: Harry Keys.
Mt Ruapehu erupted on 17 June 1996
after a series of spectacular eruptions
in September/October 1995

Mount Ruapehu

The Summit Hazard Zone is the area within a 2 km radius around the Crater Lake, which fills the volcanic vent.

Lahar

The main volcanic risk on Ruapehu is lahar, or fast volcanic mud flows. In the event of an eruption, the water in Crater Lake is ejected, then mixes with ash/snow/rock and flows very fast down mountain valleys in a flash flood.

There are early warning systems and alarms on Ruapehu for eruption and lahar activity. These events can happen without warning. Be familiar with the main lahar paths and the safe zones.

Maps of lahar paths

Videos about lahars and volcanic hazards

Recent eruptions

  • Mount Tongariro erupted twice in 2012 Read about the 2012 eruptions
  • Mount Ruapehu last erupted in 2007, and during the 2012-2013 summer it had a short period of increased risk
  • Mount Ngauruhoe's last major eruption was in 1975, and there was a small eruption in 1977

Related link


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Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 7 892 3729
Address:   Whakapapa Village
State Highway 48
Mount Ruapehu
Email:   whakapapa@doc.govt.nz
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