Featured Image: The Main Vent
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 June 2020
Volcanoes and Other Dangers
I’ve seen and climbed on a number of volcanoes around the world including Mount Bromo in Java, Mount Agung and Mount Batur in Bali; Mount Vesuvius, with Pompei and Heraculaneum; Mount Etna and Volcano in Sicily; Mount Fuji in Japan and the New Zealand volcanoes.
The only ones I’d consider dangerous while I was on them were Mount Bromo, Vulcano and the New Zealand volcanoes.
On Mount Bromo whilst an eruption was always on the cards, I actually got into trouble exploring alone away from the crater. The very sharp rock was only millimetres thick with dust underneath. It was easy to break through and hard to climb up the steep gullies.
In the Aeolian Islands we stayed on Lipari. On Vulcano while climbing the volcano we were warned by a climber coming down to avoid getting trapped in clouds of smoke which were toxic. Denise also wouldn’t follow some of the trails I wanted to go down. We couldn’t get to Stromboli because it was late in the season and the boats weren’t running.
In New Zealand, one doesn’t think of earthquakes but they are always possible. I slept through one on Bali, which killed several people
New Zealand has plenty of dangerous activities including tramping, helicopters, ice climbing, climbing Mount Cook and the volcanic areas around National Park, Rotorua and White Island.
My article on the Tongariro Crossing outlines some of these around National Park. Mount Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro aren’t necessarily benign.
In the article I say:
The park’s three volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu — all active — are the southern end of a 2500 km long range of volcanoes. The northern end of this volcanically active zone within New Zealand, which passes through Taupo and Rotorua, is White Island in the sea off the Bay of Plenty. All three are magic places to visit and within a few hours drive of Tongariro.
The cause of this volcanic activity in New Zealand is where the Pacific Tectonic Plate is subducted under the Australian Plate.
The Ketahi Hut towards the end of the Tongariro Crossing walk is no longer permitted as an overnight stop because a boulder ejected from the small Te Maari craters crashed through the roof of the hut. It would have killed anyone in the bed, but the bed was empty. More dangerous is the lahar zone at the end of the walk. You are told to not to linger and if you hear a loud noise to run like hell. This might be difficult because the zone is 2 km long and you are usually quite tired when you reach it.
On the ski area of Mount Ruapehu, surveys show that less than half of the skiers are aware of lahars. If the alarm goes off when you are skiing, you are meant to run uphill as fast as you can. One hopes that if half the skiers are running for their lives, the rest might follow.
I said in the article:
Lahars are another problem on Mount Ruapehu and also Tongariro. A lahar is a mudflow or debris flow (ash and rock) mixed with water and caused by volcanic activity. Lahars have been recorded on Mount Ruapehu since 1861, important ones were 1953, 1968, 1969, 1975, 1995 and 2007. The 1953 lahar damaged a bridge on the main Auckland to Wellington railway a short time before a train was due. The train derailed and 151 lives were lost.
The White Island Eruption
On 9 December 2019 at 14.20 White Island erupted. There were 47 people on the island at the time. Twenty-one people were killed and a further twenty-five were seriously injured, many critically.
The general description of dangers above is not meant to diminish this tragedy. Nor do I want to comment on it. An investigation is ongoing and court cases are pending. (Links are given in Further Information to the ABC Australia’s Four Corners program, which is very good and to two articles.)
The key issues raised are whether seismic indications in the previous month should have led to closing the island (but probably not) and whether the cruise ship should have explained the dangers more to its passengers.
White Island (Whakaari)
White Island is an active volcano 48 km off the north coast of New Zealand in the Bay of Plenty. The island is about two kilometres in diameter and comprises about 350 hectares. It is the most active of New Zealand’s active volcanoes. A line of volcanic activity runs from Taranaki a dormant volcano through Mounts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, past Rotorua to White Island.
The cone of White Island has been built up by almost continuous volcanic activity over 150,000 years. The island is the peak of a much larger submarine volcano. The nearest mainland towns are Tauranga and Whakatane.
The island has been releasing volcanic gas almost continuously, since it was sighted by Captain Cook in 1769. Whakaari erupted continually from December 1975 to September 2000 making it the longest historical eruption episode It also erupted in 2012, 2016 and 2019. Sulphur was mined on the island until the 1930s. A slight cone was formed around the boiling acid crater lake during the long eruption episode ending in 2000. The lake is at a temperature of 90°C and is akin to battery acid in its acidity. Ten miners were killed in 1914 when part of the crater wall collapsed. Public access to the island was only as a member of a tour run by a registered tour company. The island is currently closed to tours. (Information from Wikipedia)
White Island Tours (boats) was the brainchild of Jenny and Peter Tait evolving from a diving and fishing charter service in the 1990s. It was sold to Ngāti Awa Iwi in 2017, who paid $9 million for the business to expand its asset base and provide employment for its members. According to Stuff Co. news site ‘now it’s worth “close to zero”‘. However, this may not always pertain.
Our visit to White Island occurred on 22 May 2009 with the main operator White Island Tours. We were perhaps lucky that we were in a long dormant phase between 2000 and 2012, a decade before the 2019 eruption. We recognised that the tour was potentially hazardous and this was continually emphasised by the operator in a competent professional manner. We were advised what to do should something happen at each stage of the operation and were always accompanied by a guide who ensured that we stayed together as a group.
We were provided with a hard hat and gas masks and shown how to use them. We were told to obey the guide at all times. However, basically should something happen we were told to run like hell back to the landing place.
We did realise that what we were doing was potentially dangerous and we were under no illusions about this.
Nevertheless, the tour was magnificent. It was more scary though than anything I had done in New Zealand before. Although, I do remember my first trip to the Waimangu Valley near Rotorua, which was formed by the violent eruption of Mount Tarawera on 10 June 1886. There were no boardwalks in the late 1970s and you walked on the ground up through the thermal features. It was the first time in my life that I no longer trusted the solid earth beneath my feet because it was shaking beneath me. It was a profound emotional experience. The trip to White Island was similar but not as emotional.
Despite our awareness of the hazards, we did not conceive or admit that we could die that day on White Island.
Key Words: White Island, Whakaari, New Zealand, volcano, volcanic eruption, Mount Bromo, Mount Agung, Mount Batur, Mount Vesuvius, Pompei, Heraculaneum, Mount Etna, Vulcano, Stromboli, Mount Fuji, Mount Tarawera, Waimangu Valley, Rotorua, Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, Mount Tongariro, Mount Taranaki
Wikipedia on White Island
Wikipedia on the White Island Eruption in December 2019
ABC Four Corners
ABC Four Corners program Trapped in the Volcano
Two articles on the tragedy of 9 December 2019
Information on White Island Tours
Posted in Canberra