Volcanic mountains

‘Don’t worry’ about Mount Ruapehu’s volcanic activity, mayor says

Locals living near Mt Ruapehu seem oblivious to signs of high volcanic unrest, despite recent strong tremors and warming of the lake.

The Volcanic Alert Level at Mount Ruapehu has been raised to Level Two.
Photo: Unsplash / David Calderwood

The Volcanic Alert Level at Mount Ruapehu has been raised to Level Two since yesterday.

So far no one is running to cancel trips to the scenic center of the North Island.

But Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron has his eye on the mountain.

“Don’t worry, I’m checking that there’s no smoke coming out of the crater because we’re just below.”

High on the Slopes Mt Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron says the large number of tourists is putting considerable pressure on the district's water infrastructure.

Don Cameron, Mayor of Ruapehu District.
Photo: RNZ Insight/Laura Dooney

It wasn’t the first time and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time locals were there to help the volcano warm up, he said.

Mount Ruapehu erupted significantly during 1995 and 1996.

Cameron said the blasts forced an economic reset for many regions as visitors stayed away.

The most recent eruption of Mount Ruapehu 15 years ago had the opposite effect.

“Since 2007, when we had that [eruption] it didn’t really have any economic effect – other than having to reinforce the bridge over the Whangaehu River – which had to be done anyway.”

In fact, many visitors came to the area to “see what was going on”, he said.

Cameron said the region’s civil defense was at an incredibly high level.

“Alerts also go to our Civil Defense people, and they get in touch with the GNS.

“Between them they then decide [if] we may have to take action, and it’s more about making sure people are out of the loop about a possible eruption,” Cameron said,

Locals aren’t too worried about the volcano’s raised alert level yet.

The Tukino Mountain Clubs Association, nestled on the eastern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, wouldn’t worry unless the volcano remains at level two for a while.

Its director of security services, Bruce McGregor, was unfazed.

“I mean we live [next to the mountain] every day of the year, and once in a while, it does its job,” he said.

“It’s like living anywhere in New Zealand. We’re on the ring of fire, you know, we could have a major earthquake anywhere.”

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts said its summer operations were unaffected by the move to Volcanic Alert Level Two.

All of its lifts, including the Sky Waka gondola, are well outside the precautionary zone.

Ruapehu Castle, inside Tongariro National Park, has also not seen a flood of people canceling their trips.

Much of the Tongariro Crossing Track is operating normally, with a 2km crater radius now prohibited.

Local District Councilor and Ohakune business owner Janelle Hinch said residents were not naive about the risks.

“Without denying the power of the mountain…it’s always on your mind, but it’s certainly not an overriding concern right now,” Hinch said.

Living next to an active volcano in an area subject to constant extreme weather conditions was not for the faint-hearted.

“People in Ruapehu district have learned to be very resilient.”

“A large part of our businesses are weather-dependent – it doesn’t matter if you’re in tourism or agriculture, what happens from heaven and earth is decisive for your business.”

Hinch said Covid-19 has had a harder impact on the community than volcanic activity in recent years.