A Brief History of Auckland’s 53 Volatile Volcanoes

Every Picture Tells a Story: Extinct volcanos in Auckland

There are approximately 53 volcanoes in Auckland, which have over thousands of years produced an array of interesting lagoons, tuft rings and lava flows in Auckland city. The biggest, most active and most visible volcano – Rangitoto sits on an island of the same name in Auckland harbour.

This has erupted repeatedly over the past thousand years, with ash clouds and lava flows lasting for several weeks to years. It’s the only volcanic eruption here witnessed by humans. This exciting and dynamic landscape lends Auckland its unique features including mound like hills all over the place which provides ample places for nice picnics, photo-ops and so on.

Mt Eden looking towards the city
Mt Eden looking towards the city

Fast Facts about Auckland’s Volcanoes

  • The volcanic field is currently dormant but could become active again at any time.
  • The field is vast and consists of Lake Pupuke and Rangitoto Island in the north, Wiri Mountain in the south, Mt Albert in the west and Mt Wellington in the east.
  • The first eruption occurred approximately 248,000 years ago in Onepoto
  • The most recent eruption occurred about 600 years ago in Rangitoto Island, local Maori iwi in Auckland retell stories of the eruption which predates European settlement. 2.3 cubic kilometers of lava was spilled into Auckland harbour coating what is now Auckland CBD.

 

The verdant cone of Brown's Island/Motokorea in Waitemata Harbour. Courtesy of National Geographic

The verdant cone of Brown’s Island/Motokorea in Waitemata Harbour. Courtesy of National Geographic

  • Each volcano is pretty small with an average of 150 metres in height.
  • Orakei volcano is an explosion crater which spilled out and formed what is now Orakei basin and a picturesque lake. The same can be said of Lake Pupuke which is a crater now a beautiful lake.
Great Cycle Routes of Auckland
Beautiful Orakei Basin at dusk. Go to Orakei Bay Village where great food and beverages await. Copyright Content Catnip 2014
  • Maungakiekie or One Tree Hill which sits inside of Cornwall Park features a long 270 metre lava tube (a cavernous length of basalt rock carved out of the earth by volcanic eruptions. This lava tube has the auspicious name “The Cave of a Thousand Press-ups”.
  • During the last Glacial Maximum when most of the water was locked up in ice, both of Auckland’s harbours – Waitemata and Manukau were dry land and that is when there were many eruptions in Auckland. Except for Rangitoto which exploded recently, around 600 years ago.
  • Before Europeans came, Māori pā or settlements were popular on the sides and peaks of these volcanoes because it provided scoria to use as building materials and also provided a vantage point to set up hill forts to see other tribes approaching or attacking from afar.
  • Since 2007 the Volcanic field in Auckland has been a World Heritage site.
Mt Wellington, Courtesy of the Dept of Civil Defence
Mt Wellington, Courtesy of the Dept of Civil Defence
  • Contrary to popular belief, the volcanic field is not extinct and there may be new volcanic events happen at any time.
  • Volcanic events have the potential to be spectacularly destructive.
    • Pyroclastic surges
    • Earthquakes
    • Lava bombs
    • Ash fall
    • Closure of the Port of Auckland, State highway network, Auckland Airport.
  • There is substantial evidence that several volcanoes could go off all at once.
  • Auckland Museum, itself built on the crater of Puwekawa volcano has an immersive exhibition where you can experience what it’s like to be inside of a volcanic eruption and earthquake.
  • Auckland Council has a Volcanic Field Contingency Plan for emergency services, evacuation and so on, should the worst happen.

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