Mt Tongariro eruption: Eyewitness accounts

By Hana Garrett-Walker

Ash  on a plant near the latest eruption of Mt Tongariro. Photo / Alan Gibson
Ash on a plant near the latest eruption of Mt Tongariro. Photo / Alan Gibson

Woken by what he thought was wind, local resident David Bennett who lives about 6km away from the eruption on the southern shores of Lake Rotoaira, went to his window to see ash spewing from Mt Tongariro.

"[I saw] just a big cloud heading straight up from the crater, thunder and lightning from in the cloud, and then there was a smaller cloud drifting northward, lasted I suppose about half an hour and then the dust cloud headed over towards the east."

He knew what was happening straight away and kicked an evacuation plan into action.

While his wife checked on his parents, he went and checked that his neighbours were awake.

"Because wind was blowing the other way, we just waited here."

The locals had met scientists recently to discuss recent activity at Mt Tongariro.

"[We] had our own evacuation plan because we saw no sign of police and search and rescue until this morning about 7 o'clock, so we did our own thing and made sure everyone was safe."

When he got closer to the mountain this morning he said it looked like another crater had blown open.

Mr Bennett was living at the same place when Ruapehu erupted in 1995, and said this eruption was "just about as spectacular".

"All the flashes and the lightning and hear the thunder and the rumblings, bits and pieces."

The Ruapehu eruption scattered ash all over Mr Bennett's property, but this time there was no signs of ash.

About 800 metres up the road was covered in ash this morning, he said.

"It's just one of those things, we've known for about a month that it's rumbling but hey that's life, volcanoes will do what it's going to do."


Anne Lambert, who owns the Rainbow Motel, about 4km from Turangi, said she did not know what she was witnessing when she first looked out her window about midnight last night.

"I heard the loud noise, that's what got me out of bed...I heard this loud rumble, like a big lot of trucks coming by, but it didn't go away and I thought "that's funny" and I pulled back the gate and looked out."

As she looked out from a second-storey deck she could see a large plume of smoke sitting in the middle of the volcano, with sparks coming out of it.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

Initially she could not figure out what was happening because it was too close to be Ruapehu, which was where she thought it was initially coming from.

"Once I heard it was Tongariro I realised that was what it was."

There was no ash left on their property this morning.

A couple was staying at the motel overnight, but they slept through the eruption, she said.

She said she was never frightened by the eruption.

"I hope it doesn't spoil the ski season."


Commentators took to TradeMe's discussion board to talk about the overnight eruption.

"It stinks of sulphur here in Napier and we have ash on the car," said Pommie74.

While Lizzie211 said she was 10 km away from the eruption and missed it all.

"It was just a bit of a blow - nothing to make a fuss about unless there is continuing activity," she wrote.

"We get hundreds of earthquakes every year, all related to volcanic activity."


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