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Okataina Volcanic Centre/ Mt Tarawera Volcano

Tarawera means ‘burnt cliff’ or ‘burnt peaks’.

Mount Tarawera

For a one page fact sheet / poster on Mount Tarawera volcano click VolcanoFactSheets Tarawera.pdf (535.12 kB)

Tarawera is one of a number of dome volcanoes in the Okataina Volcanic Centre which lies east of Rotorua. This area is a caldera (collapse crater) that became volcanically active about 400 000 years ago and which last subsided about 64,000 years ago. Since then eruptions from many vents in the caldera floor have built dome volcanoes and partly filled in the hole left by that collapse.

The time between eruptions in the Okataina Volcanic Centre is long (700 to 3000 years) but eruptions are 100 to 10,000 times larger than those of cone volcanoes.

Tarawera is the site of New Zealand’s largest eruption during the last 500 years. Eruptions which created Mt Tarawera began about 18,000 years ago. The volcano is 1111m high and it has three dome shaped peaks with a central fissure. It is surrounded by a number of lakes created or altered by the 1886 eruption.

On 10 June 1886, the Tarawera eruption began at 1.30am and lasted about 5 hours. Witnesses described earthquakes, lightning storms and fireballs, strong winds, suffocating gases, ash fall and darkness during daylight hours as the ash cloud passed overhead.

A 17 km long rift was blasted across the top of the mountain, through Lake Rotomahana and into the Waimangu Valley area. A mixture of steam and finely fragmented rock known as the ‘Rotomahana Mud’ spread over a wide area and was heavy enough to collapse nearby buildings. The world famous Pink and White Terraces were destroyed, and more than 100 people were killed in villages near the mountain. The ‘Buried Village’ of Te Wairoa has been excavated from the rocks, ash and mud which buried it in 1886.

Although caldera volcanoes usually erupt rhyolite magma very explosively, the 1886 eruption produced basalt which is less viscous.

GNS Science is monitoring Okataina Caldera with 8 seismographs, 7 continuous GPS stations, lake monitoring and levelling.