Mountain blows again

Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012

A hiking group from Tamatea Intermediate School got a close-up and spectacular experience of the Mt Tongario eruption.

English tourist Angie Glanvill runs along the Tongariro Crossing track as Mt Tongariro's Te Marri Crater erupts.
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As thousands prepare to descend on the region this weekend for the massive Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, scientists are predicting more eruptions to come - and not just at Tongariro.

GNS Science last week warned of a possible eruption at neighbouring Mt Ruapehu in coming weeks after pressure began building up under the Crater Lake.

And they say yesterday's eruption at Tongariro's Te Maari crater - which sent a 2km-high ash plume into the sky - has not lessened the chance of that happening.

They also expect eruptions to continue at Tongariro over coming days.

The news has put Challenge organisers on tenterhooks, but at this stage hasn't stopped the event, which kicks off on Saturday.

Event director Kay Brake said they were monitoring information closely and had several contingency measures in place, should there be further eruptions.

GNS vulcanologist Tony Hurst said all eyes had been on Ruapehu and yesterday's eruption took them by surprise, despite a larger eruption at the same crater in August.

There were no earthquakes of note in the lead-up, which would have readied scientists for the mountain to blow.

"It was unexpected. [But] there's no reason to think this is all we're going to get. There's a significant risk that there'll be more like this.

"There's a history on Tongariro of having months or longer of eruptions but none of it large."

Taupo District Council emergency manager Phil Parker said it was unusual to have to monitor two mountains at a time.

It was now simply a waiting game to see how and when Mt Ruapehu erupted, he said.

Tuwharetoa spokesman Bubs Smith, who lives near the base of the mountain, described Te Maari's actions as "just a little cough".

"It was nowhere near like last time, just a bit of a nuisance really."

He was still surprised given an eruption from Mt Ruapehu had been expected.

"After that August 6 eruption we thought it's done it's dash, that's over."

He said residents were anxious given the activity at Ruapehu, which he hoped would release sooner rather than later.

"There's a lot of pressure still building there, so that still needs to release. The longer it takes the more pressure is building up."

A film crew were in the middle of interviewing a geologist and a vulcanologist on Mt Tongariro when the mountain erupted behind them.

Three crew members from Kiwi web-video production company 90 Seconds TV were making the Tongariro Crossing, a video to encourage Australians to travel to the Great Lakes area.

90 Seconds TV chief executive Tim Norton said they were in the middle of their on-camera inter-view when "she blew her top".

"I have watched the footage of the explosion. There was a big boom, which lasted quite a while.

"There was quite a lot of euphoria, lots of screaming and yelling. There wasn't a lot of fear."

The fear came later, he says, when the smoke and ash began to pour into the sky.

"I think when that happened, when they felt the rumble deep... that was a little bit frightening."

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The man responsible for a group of 90 school students on Mt Tongariro yesterday said there was eerie sense of calm before it suddenly erupted.

Paul Lowes, a teacher at Tamatea Intermediate in Napier, was leading the youngsters over the Tongariro Crossing when it started spurting smoke and ash, about 1.30pm.

The group was celebrating reaching their destination - the Ketetahi Springs - when one of the kids pointed towards the Te Maari crater, about a kilometre away.

"We turned around and there she was, she was just starting to blow," Mr Lowes said. "It was a bit of an eerie experience. There was a little bit of a rumbling to start with and then a very peaceful calm and you could just hear the ash, the eruption, the clouds going up into the air.

The students were initially excited by the blast, some started taking photos and teacher Lomi Schaumkel filmed the action.

The video footage showed some of the students, and other people further along the track, turning and running away from the ash cloud.

Mr Lowes said the excitement was quickly surpassed by a sense of urgency to get to safety.

"We stopped in a bit of awe of it really, and then realised what was really happening as it was getting bigger. Then it was - righto, it's time to move everyone out of here," Mr Lowes said.

The children made their way down the mountain and back to Mission Bay Christian Camp, where they will spend the rest of the week.

Mr Lowes said he had been in touch with the Department of Conservation earlier in the day and had every reason to believe the mountain was safe.

He said it will be a school trip he, and the students, will never forget.

- Waikato Times

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