Explore some of New Zealand's volcanic geology, the consequences from their eruptions and the effect on local biodiversity. This resource also looks at the impacts of eco-tourism.

This geology teaching resource focuses on a slice of New Zealand's volcanic activity, exploring specific volcanoes, the consequences from their eruptions and the effect on local biodiversity. It also looks at the impacts of eco tourism.

It links to websites, videos and learning tools which provide practical activities to develop your students' knowledge and skill.

About the resource

Learning levels:

  • Primary
  • Secondary


  • Alpine
  • Native plants
  • Native animals

Learning areas:

  • Science (Earth systems, Living world)
  • Social science 
  • Geography
  • Education for sustainablility

Achievement objectives:

  • Students will develop an understanding that water, air, rocks and soil and life forms make up our planet and recognise that these are also Earth's resources.
  • Students will explain how living things are suited to their particular habitat and how they respond to environmental changes both natural and human induced.  

Learning outcomes:

  • Students will explore the Volcanic Plateau on a map and speculate as to why it's New Zealand's main area of volcanic activity and is so unpredictable.
  • Students will examine the eruption on Mt Tarawera and alter a diagram to show the sequence of volcanic events that led to disaster.
  • Students will find and discuss evidence from the video that shows just how violent the Tarawera eruption was.
  • Students will use a map of the Tarawera area to identify changes in the land since the eruption.
  • Students will research a special feature of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and then design a "See how the world began" page, for the tourism website.
  • Students will use a video to find out how scientists monitor a volcano and visit a website to find out if plans are in place if a volcano erupts on the mainland.
  • Students will list, rate and assess White Island's volcanic hazards.
  • Students will create an animated powerpoint that illustrates the very special plant succession on Rangitoto Island.
  • Students will show with simple working model, an understanding of lahars and how the fossilised forest was created at Curio Bay.
  • Students will design a pamphlet for the Curio Bay Heritage Centre that shows that the five principles of ecotourism are being followed.

View the resource

DOC and TVNZ collaborated to create this resource 'NZ Geography: Shake, rattle and roll', which was written by DOC ranger Mike Tapp. 

Contents of resource:


1. Use these starters to check student's ideas about volcanoes and how they form:

  • Show some pictures of volcanoes and then ask if all volcanoes are like these ones. See photos of volcanoes.
  • Look at these photos of New Zealand volcanoes and decide whether they are all "still volcanoes" (students sometimes think they have to be currently erupting to be volcanoes).
  • Look at the Lake Taupo and decide if this lake is a volcano. (Lake Taupo is a caldera volcano. The magma chamber emptied rapidly during this eruption and the sides of the volcano collapsed back into it forming a big crater basin. It filled with water to become a lake.)

2. You can check your students' ideas on how volcanoes happen with these two starters on the TVNZ website:

Waimangu Geothermal Area

3. Explore the Volcanic Plateau region.

Speculate as to why it's New Zealand's main area of volcanic activity and so unpredictable. Reasons include:

  • The Pacific tectonic plate is sinking beneath the Australian Plate.
  • At a certain depth its rocks heat and produce volcanic activity. This erupts at the surface through minor steam vents, mud pools and hot springs.
  • The region has erupted in major ways too with volcanic eruptions, collapsing mountains and the formation of lakes.
  • This region of eruption stretches from Whakaari (White Island) in the Bay of Plenty to Mt Ruapehu and is the 'line of fire' and part of the huge 'ring of fire' around the Pacific Ocean.

4. Tourists are drawn to Rotorua's thermal activity today but this area was once home to one of the wonders of the world. People came from far and wide to soak in the thermal hot pools and view the delicately tinted silica of the Pink and White Terraces. View photos of the Pink and White Terraces.

Show students the photos and speculate as to why they are no longer there today.

Investigate the eruption on Mt Tarawera by doing this activity in pairs: eruption on Mt Tarawera worksheet (PDF, 336K) on the TVNZ website. Share the diagrams when complete.

Reinforce how Mt Tarawera was a wet or explosive eruption. The water mixed with magma and turned it into an explosive fluid. The same thing happens when water is poured over incredibly hot oil - like the oil used to deep fry chips.

Check out this oil burning Flickr photo sequence - it's a good chance to touch on fire safety when cooking chips! If water is run into a pot of burning chip oil it will explode up the wall of your kitchen. (These fires are best extinguished with a dry powder extinguisher, or by throwing a damp cloth over the pot.)

5. Watch the Meet the Locals episode Waimangu Valley geothermal area. It's the newest wholly formed geothermal site in the world.

As they view, have the students look and listen for evidence that shows just how violent this eruption was. Discuss this after you view the video. Ideas may include:

  • The eruption split the mountain in two and expanded Lake Rotomahana 20 times;
  • It stripped all vegetation around Lake Rotomahana and Tarawera;
  • Seven craters were formed and thick mud and ash covered hundreds of square kilometres of land. Large cracks crossed the region.

Discuss how volcanoes change the land and ask again what they think happened to The Pink and White Terraces.

(The Terraces turned to dust and fragments and the site of the terraces became a crater over 100 metres deep. Steam erupted for several months but it filled with water within 15 years. This new Lake Rotomahana, was much larger than the old one.)

Use the map of the Devastation caused by the Tarawera eruption to find these changes in the land:

  • The seven craters;
  • The comparison between the old lake and the new;
  • The villages affected;
  • The area covered by mud;
  • The areas most affected by falling scoria;
  • The Waimangu Geothermal Area with the Waimangu Geyser and New Zealand's largest hot spring - Frying Pan Lake. (Look for the chain of craters)

6. Tourists have always come to the Tarawera area. They were back there one day after the eruption! Ask the students why this tourism operation uses the slogan - "How the world began".

Watch the video again and have students watch for and list "beginning of the world" examples like:

  • Unusual geothermal adapted plants such as extreme thermophiles;
  • Inferno crater - the crypto geyser- "a geyser caught in the bottom of a bowl"; 
    Waimangu Geyser;
  • A native forest that's only a 100 years old;
  • Frying Pan Lake;
  • Silica terraces.

Students can then choose and investigate one of these features and bullet point their findings.

They can design a "See how the world began" page, for the tourism website Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Their web page should include an image and the bullet pointed information. 

White Island

7. The next two videos examine White Island, an active volcano. Students can build their knowledge with White Island - What do you know? (PDF, 197K) worksheet on the TVNZ website. Discuss the two questions in pairs and share the ideas in class.

Find out how scientists monitor a live volcano with the Meet the Locals episode Earth science lab.

Focus on the science of volcanology for the first viewing and what Brad Scott tests and looks for on his visits to the island. Mentioned in the video are:

  • Crater lake chemistry - he tests the springs and streams;
  • The scientists use a seismograph and also a barometer for measuring the airways;
  • They take deformation surveys which measure the shape and changes of the ground - to see if it is expanding or contracting;
  • Soil gas surveys and airborne gas surveys are also carried out.

Discuss how the findings can be applied to other volcanoes and see if the students can give other examples, similar to the one described in the video.

As a class decide whether testing is carried out on any of our volcanoes that are not presently active or dormant and whether any emergency preparations are in place, just in case an eruption does happen.

(Students often think a volcano is extinct if the activity has been in the distant past. Scientists consider a volcano active if it has erupted in the last 100,000 years.)

Together, look at the Volcanic eruption hazard instructions on the Taranaki Regional Council website.

Explore the website to see that emergency plans are well in place as is a monitoring system including eight seismographs and a web camera.

The GeoNet website shows current volcanic activity and is well worth exploring as students will see just how much "shake rattle and rolling" is occurring all the time.

Get the students to "google" their own region's civil defence site to see if volcanic activity gets a mention. Their regional council looks after civil defence.

8. Show the video again but this time students should look for the hazards - a question they have already discussed. List them together and then try the Rate White Island's Volcanic Hazards worksheet (PDF, 67K) on the TVNZ website.

Complete this section by watching the Meet the Locals episode Visiting a live volcano. You'll see more of the hazards on White Island and how destructive they've actually been. You'll also see what visitors wear to minimise the risk.

Students may wish to reassess their ratings on the Rate White Island's Volcanic Hazards worksheet (PDF, 67K)on the TVNZ website.

Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto is a shield volcano so streams of lava spewed from cracks in the earth and the island emerged from the sea in a series of fiery volcanic explosions. Lava cooled and hardened into a cone before more eruptions sent a number of hot lava flows down the sides of the volcano, forming the sloping sides of black basaltic rock which make up 95 per cent of an island that's almost circular.

Our video focuses on the plants that have grown up on the inhospitable environment of lava rock and on Rangitoto you can see the different stages plant succession from bare lava, to individual trees getting established and the forest.

This is called primary succession. The plants are colonising bare ground that has never developed a soil and on Rangitoto Island this succession is quite unusual because it's gone from bare lava, to forest, without the stages in between. Pohutukawa was one of the first plants to take hold on the fresh lava and after 600 years, a pohutukawa forest, the largest in New Zealand, covers about 80% of the island.

First, try the Plant succession activity (PDF, 60K) on the TVNZ website around Mt Tarawera to build an understanding of how succession (where one group of plants has gradually replaced another) works.

10. Look at how plants reproduce, with a plant hunt in the school grounds or nearby patch of bush. Find examples of each of the three main reproductive types - spore, cone and flower bearers. Remember though, they're not always easy to see and may be visible only at certain times of the year.

(New Zealand's Ministry of Education Resource - Book 7, The Bush - Classifying Forest Plants, pages 6 to 7 has some handy teacher notes.)

Encourage the students to write questions about how these three types reproduce and then provide resource material that allows them to find out.

Finish with the question: If an island is formed by a volcano and erupts from the sea, how did the plants get there? Think, pair and then share the ideas in class.

11. Now watch the Meet the Locals episode Rangitoto. The students should look for:

  • The answer to: how did the plants get there?
  • Differences between the plant succession at Mt Tarawera compared to that on Rangitoto Island.

Discuss these two points in class when you've seen the video.

12. Introduce epiphytes. These plants are perchers. They simply perch high on the branches and trunks of host trees where there is more light to grow and they don't harm the tree.

Epiphytes normally perch and grow where leaf litter has gathered, like in the fork of a tree or in the moss. They don't feed off the tree so they're not parasites.

The video mentions:

  • astelia
  • Kirk's daisy tree
  • puka
  • some native orchids

They're all epiphytes but they've adapted to the rocky crevices of Rangitoto and begin life in these instead of high in a tree.

Watch the video again looking for how the leaf litter is formed to support these epiphytes.

Watch closely to find out how the pohutukawa seed arrived in the first place (it's extremely fine and would have blown there).

After the video use this Pohutukawa factsheet (PDF, 33K) from the Project Crimson website to identify the special featurespohutukawa have, that let them grow so well on Rangitoto.

13. In pairs or small groups make a simple animated powerpoint that shows plant succession on Rangitoto island. It should show:

  • How the lichen arrived
  • How the pohutukawa got there
  • Why pohutukawa could establish itself on the rocky landscape
  • How pohutukawa helped other plants grow

You could use this video as a model: Primary Succession video on YouTube.

History Never Repeats - Curio Bay, The Catlins

14. We head to a remnant from the Gondwana land mass in the last of the geology videos. We see the fossilised remains of a 180 million year old forest near the most southern part of New Zealand. This forest is one of the biggest and least disturbed Jurassic fossil forests in the world.

It's in the timeframe of Jurassic Park, 199 Million to 145 Million years ago.

As a class, check out the summary of the Jurassic Period on National Geographic's website.

Enlarge the map first to see Gwandana and work out which part would break away to become New Zealand. (At this time, most of the future New Zealand was beneath the sea.)

India was the first to break away, followed by Africa and then about 100 million years ago New Zealand, slowly drifted north.

Decide as a class which of the things from National Geographic's Jurassic Period summary match things we find in New Zealand today.


  • Ferns and conifers - for example giant pines are the relatives of today's kauri;
  • Insects - weta saw dinosaurs come and go;
  • Reptiles- the relatives of the tuatara roamed Gondwana about this time.

Think pair and share. Why didn't rodents hop aboard when NZ drifted off? They didn't appear in New Zealand until people brought them here.

(Fossils tell us rodent-like mammals appeared shortly after the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. That was about 65 million years ago so the rodents were not around by the time NZ broke away from Gondwana. Our birds evolved without them.)

15. Watch the Meet the Locals episode History never repeats about the petrified forest at Curio Bay.

When this forest was alive and well Curio Bay was a broad coastal floodplain flanked by active volcanoes. Mudflows or lahars from these volcanoes swept over the forest burying trees and the understory of ferns.

The Mudslides at Curio Bay worksheet (PDF, 111K) on the TVNZ website examines the nature of lahars. Students can create a lahar model of their own and find out about one lahar that caused one of New Zealand's worst disasters.

Now, watch the Meet the Locals episode Lahar to see the Ruapehu one in action.

16. The community at Curio Bay wants to create a Natural Heritage Centre that they believe will enhance the visitors' experience and better protect the petrified forest and the unique wildlife that lives there.

They want to use the area as resource, just as the Waimangu Geothermal Area has for the people that live there. Their website welcomes people to Curio Bay/Tumu Toka pointing out that it is home to:

  • A 170 million year old Fossil Forest from the Jurassic age;
  • A nesting site for New Zealand's unique Yellow Eyed Penguin/Hoiho;
  • A beautiful sweeping beach at the the adjoining Porpoise Bay, where a resident pod of rare Hector Dolphins jump and play in the surf;
  • Seals and sea lions enjoying a well deserved rest;
  • A campsite nestled subtly into the flaxes;
  • Spectacular wild waves crashing onto the cliffs.

In the last of the volcanic activities the students can design the pamphlet for people who may wish to visit the Heritage Centre.

Its explanation of facilities and tourist activities must show that the five principles of ecotourism are being followed.

Five principles of ecotourism:

1. There are only positive impacts to the environment.

2. Any involvement by visitors will increase their awareness and understanding of the natural wonders of Curio Bay.

3. Conservation will benefit because the area is better managed.

4. The local people have made the decisions about the kind of activities and amount of 
tourism that should happen.

5. Local people have benefited by finding out more about the wonders of their own area and making use of opportunities that come their way.

Get the students to assess each others pamphlets and check to see if the five principles of ecotourism are actually demonstrated.

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