This is the crater of Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand, It is part of a chain of volcanoes and areas of substantial thermal activity that stretch north roughly 235 km to White Island which is the scene of this week’s eruption.
Just north of Ruapehu is Lake Taupo, which if you visited it, seems peaceful and benign yet Lake Taupo is in a caldera created by a supervolcanic eruption only 26,500 years ago. The most recent major eruption of Taupo was about 181 AD. This was one of the most violent eruptions on the planet in the last 5000 years.
Ruapehu, the largest active volcano in New Zealand, has a deep, active crater that fills with water between major eruptions, known as Crater Lake (seen in this photograph). In 1953 the tephra dam that holds back the lake collapsed and created a lahar that killed 151 passengers on an overnight train when it destroyed the bridge at nearby Tangiwai. It last erupted in September 2007 without warning, about a year before I took this photo from the summit ridge above Turoa Skifield. It will erupt again for certain.
Volcanic and earthquake activity is extremely common and regular in New Zealand and thousands of Kiwis live, work and play on and in very close vicinity to these amazing mountains and regions. I last visited Ruapehu just a month ago and always love being there. Part of the mystique and draw of the mountain is the unavoidable knowledge of the power of the planet, on the very thin crust of which we live out our lives and build our societies and civilizations. But in the blink of an eye and with no feeling or warning whatsoever a relatively small expression of the planet’s natural forces can snuff all that out, as happened tragically at White Island a few days ago.
In a year that has seen already too much tragedy in Aotearoa I know everyone will be feeling the sadness and loss of this natural disaster and especially that it impacted so many who were welcome visitors there to experience New Zealand’s legendary beauty and hospitality. It is quite simply horrific. My thoughts and condolences are with everyone affected and my absolute respect and gratitude go to the emergency teams who responded, some of whom are literally risking their lives on the island as I write this, to recover the remaining bodies for the grieving families.
Arohanui Aotearoa. Kia Kaha!