Mount Tongariro

Coordinates: 39°07′47″S 175°38′09″E / 39.12972°S 175.63583°E / -39.12972; 175.63583
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Mount Tongariro
Highest point
Elevation1,978 m (6,490 ft)[1]
Coordinates39°07′47″S 175°38′09″E / 39.12972°S 175.63583°E / -39.12972; 175.63583[1]
Mount Tongariro is located in New Zealand
Mount Tongariro
Mount Tongariro
New Zealand
Age of rock275,000 years[2]
Mountain typeComplex volcano
Volcanic arc/beltTaupō Volcanic Zone
Last eruption21 November 2012 13:50 [3]
Easiest routeTongariro Alpine Crossing

Mount Tongariro (/ˈtɒŋɡərɪr/; Māori: [tɔŋaɾiɾɔ]) is a compound volcano in the Taupō Volcanic Zone of the North Island of New Zealand. It is located 20 km (12 mi) to the southwest of Lake Taupō, and is the northernmost of the three active volcanoes that dominate the landscape of the central North Island.


Mount Tongariro is part of the Tongariro volcanic centre, which consists of four massifs made of andesite: Tongariro, Kakaramea-Tihia Massif, Pihanga, and Ruapehu[4] at the southern end of the North Island Volcanic Plateau. The andesitic eruptions formed Tongariro, a steep stratovolcano, reaching a height of 1,978 m (6,490 ft). Tongariro is composed of layers of both lava and tephra and the eruptions that built the current stratovolcano commenced about 275,000 years ago.[2]

Tongariro consists of at least 12 cones. Ngauruhoe, while often regarded as a separate mountain, is geologically a cone of Tongariro. It is also the most active vent, having erupted more than 70 times since 1839, the last episode in 1973 to 1975.[5]

Emerald Lakes from the summit of Red Crater

Activity has also been recorded at other vents in recent history. Te Māri Craters erupted in 2012, for the first time since 1897. Red Crater last erupted ash in 1926 and contains active fumaroles. There are many explosion craters on the massif; water has filled some of these to form Blue Lake and the Emerald Lakes.

The high altitude and severe alpine climate between March and October cause snowfall in the winter (there are commercial ski-fields at neighbouring Mount Ruapehu) and rain can freeze, causing verglas; in contrast in the mid to late summer, the mountains can be bare apart from remnant patches of snow in south-facing gullies. Unlike nearby Mt. Ruapehu, no glaciers exist on Tongariro today. However, geomorphological evidence in the form of moraines and cirques indicates the former presence of mountain glaciers. Dating of moraines on western Tongariro show that valley glaciers were present at several times during the last glacial cycle, before melting away at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum approximately 18,000 years ago.[6]


Mount Tongariro is in the Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's first national park and one of the earliest in the world. It was set aside (literally "made sacred") in 1887 by Te Heuheu Tukino IV (Horonuku), paramount chief of the Māori Ngati Tuwharetoa iwi and made a national park in order to preserve its natural beauty. The park also includes the peaks of Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, both of which lie to the southwest of Tongariro. The national park is a dual World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural and intangible cultural values.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing hiking route passes between Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

Mount Tongariro and its surroundings are also one of the several locations which Peter Jackson chose to shoot The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Eruptive history[edit]

Map centered on Mount Tongariro to show approximate selected surface volcanic deposits around it with andesitic deposits in shades of red. To the south this is continuous with volcanic deposits from Mount Ruapehu. Rhyolitic ignimbrite surface deposits are various shades of violet from eruptions of the Taupō Volcano. Mixed and sedimentary deposits are not shown. The andesitic deposits of the Kakaramea-Tihia Massif, and Pihanga are to the north beyond Lake Rotoaira. Clicking on the map enlarges it, and enables panning and mouseover of volcanic deposits name/wikilink and ages before present for wider volcanic context. The key to the shading of other volcanics that are shown (active in last million years odd) with panning is dacite – purple, rhyolite – violet, basalt – brown, monogenetic basalts – dark brown, undifferentiated basalts of the Tangihua Complex in Northland Allochthon – light brown, arc basalts – deep orange brown, arc ring basalts – orange brown, basaltic andesite – light red, and plutonic – gray. White shading has been used for postulated calderas (usually subsurface now).

The oldest recorded volcanism in the area was at 933,000 ± 46,000 years ago at Hauhungatahi, northwest of Ruapehu. There is then a gap in identified materials until a small lava inlier on the western side of Tongariro that has been dated at 512,000 ± 59,000 years ago and is essentially buried by more recent activity.[7] The 90 km3 (22 cu mi) cone and 60 km3 (14 cu mi) ring-plain of the complex has multiple eruptive centres aligned with the Taupō volcanic rift and bounded by the Waihi and Poutu fault zones. The formation of these began about 304,000 years ago in the Tama lakes area and definitely was established by 230,000 years ago.[8] The eruptive centres extend from the Te Maari craters in the northeast to the Tama Lakes in the southwest and include the more classic cone of Mount Ngauruhoe which like North Crater, another symmetrical but smaller cone, required the absence of ice after the last ice age to form. Tongariro displays evidence for extensive Quaternary glaciation in the form of moraines and lava-ice interaction textures.[8] However Pukeonake is off this axis, approximately 6 km west of the linear vent zone, but is considered to be a satellite vent. There was an intense period of large explosive eruptions around 11,000 years ago from multiple vents between Tongariro and Ruapehu (the Pahoka-Mangamate sequence).[7]

2012 Te Māri eruptions[edit]

NASA satellite image of the August 2012 eruption, from Suomi NPP

After a period of volcanic unrest that had resulted in an increase in alert level on 20 July 2012,[9] at 11:50 pm (NZST, UTC+12) on 6 August 2012, Mt Tongariro had what was initially believed to be a hydrothermal eruption after this increased activity. The eruption occurred at the Te Māri Craters,[10] which had not had a major ash eruption since 1897[11] and had been dormant since September 1899.[9]

The eruption occurred in a new vent below the Upper Te Māri crater, and sent blocks as large as 1 m (3 ft) in size up to 2 km (1.2 mi) from the vent.[12]

An ash cloud 6.1 km (3.8 mi) high deposited ash into the surrounding area, especially to the east of the volcano. The ash cloud travelled 250 km (160 mi) in four hours. NIWA reported the ash cloud contained about 10,000 m3 (350,000 cu ft) of ash, and that the ash cloud was 25 km (16 mi) long and 15 km (9.3 mi) wide 39 minutes after the eruption. Ash and the smell of sulphur was reported in Napier and Hastings.[13] The smell of sulphur was also reported in Wellington, Nelson and Blenheim.[14]

State Highway 1 to the east and State Highway 46 to the north of the mountain each received up to 5 cm (2 in) of ash cover, and were closed until the following morning due to ash and low visibility.[15] A layer of ash 10–15 mm (0.4–0.6 in) thick settled on farmland 5 to 10 km (3.1 to 6.2 mi) east of Mount Tongariro. Particle sizes were between 2 and 3 mm (0.08 and 0.12 in). The airspace within a 12 km (7.5 mi) radius of the mountain was closed after the eruption, but later reopened to visual flights only. Air New Zealand cancelled some flights in and out of Rotorua, Taupō, Gisborne, Napier, Wanganui and Palmerston North due to the risk of volcanic ash clogging the engines on their aircraft serving those airports.[16]

No injuries were reported, and the only significant property damage was to the Department of Conservation's Ketetahi Hut, which is located 1.5 km (0.9 mi) west of the Te Māri Craters.[16] There was no official evacuation but 24 people living along State Highway 46 fled their homes for fear of being isolated.

Mount Tongariro erupted again at 1:20 pm on 21 November, ejecting an ash cloud 4000 metres into the air.[17][18] Flights in the area were cancelled, as were several the following morning.[19] Geologists had no warning before the eruption, saying it wasn't linked to warnings the week before of elevated activity at nearby Mount Ruapehu.[20][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Tongariro". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  2. ^ a b "About Tongariro". GeoNet Hazards Monitoring Network. Archived from the original on 8 August 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Mt Tongariro Erupts Again". 21 November 2012. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  4. ^ Cole, J.W. (March 1978). "Andesites of the Tongariro volcanic centre, North Island, New Zealand". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 3 (1–2): 121–153. Bibcode:1978JVGR....3..121C. doi:10.1016/0377-0273(78)90007-0.
  5. ^ McSaveney, Eileen; Stewart, Carol; Leonard, Graham (5 November 2007). "Historic volcanic activity: Tongariro and Ngāuruhoe". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Archived from the original on 30 April 2009. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
  6. ^ Eaves, Shaun R.; N. Mackintosh, Andrew; Winckler, Gisela; Schaefer, Joerg M.; Alloway, Brent V.; Townsend, Dougal B. (15 January 2016). "A cosmogenic 3He chronology of late Quaternary glacier fluctuations in North Island, New Zealand (39°S)". Quaternary Science Reviews. 132: 40–56. Bibcode:2016QSRv..132...40E. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.11.004.
  7. ^ a b Leonard, Graham S.; Cole, Rosie P.; Christenson, Bruce W.; Conway, Chris E.; Cronin, Shane J.; Gamble, John A.; Hurst, Tony; Kennedy, Ben M.; Miller, Craig A.; Procter, Jonathan N.; Pure, Leo R.; Townsend, Dougal B.; White, James D. L.; Wilson, Colin J. N. (2 May 2021). "Ruapehu and Tongariro stratovolcanoes: a review of current understanding". New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 64 (2–3): 389–420. Bibcode:2021NZJGG..64..389L. doi:10.1080/00288306.2021.1909080. hdl:10468/11258. S2CID 235502116.
  8. ^ a b Pure, L. R.; Leonard, G. S.; Townsend, D. B.; Wilson, C. J. N.; Calvert, A. T.; Calvert, A. T.; Cole, R. P.; Conway, C. E.; Gamble, J. A.; Smith, T. B. (1 October 2020). "A high resolution 40Ar/39Ar lava chronology and edifice construction history for Tongariro Volcano, New Zealand". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 402: 106993. Bibcode:2020JVGR..40306993P. doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2020.106993. hdl:10468/10345. Archived from the original on 5 June 2022. Retrieved 5 June 2022.
  9. ^ a b "Te Maari: Ten-year anniversary of the 2012 eruption(s)". Archived from the original on 11 August 2022. Retrieved 7 August 2022.
  10. ^ "Tongariro erupts, alert level raised". GeoNet. 7 August 2012. Archived from the original on 8 September 2019. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  11. ^ "Volcanic Alert Bulletin TON-2012/03". GeoNet. 21 July 2012. Archived from the original on 6 August 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Volcanic Alert Bulletin TON-2012/10". Geonet. 8 August 2012. Archived from the original on 10 August 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  13. ^ "Tongariro eruption: 1km ash radius". The New Zealand Herald. 7 August 2012. Archived from the original on 8 September 2019. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  14. ^ "Tongariro eruption: Sulphur smell in Blenheim". 8 August 2012. Archived from the original on 3 May 2019. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  15. ^ "Scientists: Tongariro eruption 'unexpected'". 3 News. 7 August 2012. Archived from the original on 24 February 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Eruption activity subsided for now - civil defence". Television New Zealand. 7 August 2012. Archived from the original on 4 June 2020. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  17. ^ "VIDEO: Mt Tongariro erupts, huge ash cloud". 3 News NZ. 21 November 2012. Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  18. ^ Williams, Dave; Robson, Sarah (21 November 2012). "More Tongariro eruptions forecast". Newswire. Archived from the original on 28 November 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  19. ^ "Flights cancelled after Tongariro eruption". 3 News NZ. 22 November 2012. Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
  20. ^ "Scientists had no warning before Mt Tongariro eruption". 3 News NZ. 21 November 2012. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  21. ^ "Ruapehu eruption more likely". 3 News NZ. 26 November 2012. Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]