For those of you not familiar with New Zealand’s geography, Lake Taupo is in the middle of the North Island and is the largest fresh water lake in New Zealand.
Kuratau, where I am holidaying at the moment is one of many small communities on the lake shores, with about a 100 permanent residents. However, many more come over the summer months, particularly Christmas and New Year when the community swells and the lake starts to bubble with boaties enjoying the water – skiing, biscuiting, fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking and swimming.
The lake has long been famous for its beauty and recreational activities, however it has had a dark past. For 300,000 years Taupo has been active erupting on numerous occasions but two are notable.
A monumental volcanic explosion, called the Oruanui eruption was the most violent eruption ever recorded in history. It occurred 26,000 years ago and Lake Taupo as we know it today was formed. The caldera (volcanic crater) is now filled with fresh water from the 52 tributaries and rivers that flow into it.
The explosion was so great it threw rocks and lava to a height of 50 km and at speeds of up to 900 km/hr. The central part of the North Island was covered in poisonous ash, rocks, lava and pumice 200 metres deep, with ash covering the rest the country even as far as the Chatham Islands, a 1,000 km away where the ash was 18 cm. It obliterated the forests that covered the country.
In addition to this eruption another monty occurred just 1,800 years ago called the Taupo eruption (also known as the Hatepe eruption). It was the most violent eruption in the world in the last 5,000 years and was so dramatic the Chinese and Romans reporting seeing darkened skies from the ash.
In case you are wondering, Lake Taupo is still volcanically active. If you have ever noticed pockets of much warmer water when swimming in the lake, it’s because it is heated by thermal activity in the lake’s depths. The lake has many vents most of them under the water. There as also several hot water springs around the shore of the lake including Little Waihi in Tokaanu, not far from Kuratau.
While the beauty of this lake is extraordinary, nature can be deceiving. Scientists know the lake’s caldera regularly shows small signs of unrest, but it is considered normal behaviour for a volcano, so relax!