Volcanic eruption

Ruapehu eruption, June 1996.

A volcano is an opening in the Earth’s crust through which steam, ash, magma and gases erupt. New Zealand’s volcanoes are often active and are constantly monitored.

If a life-threatening eruption occurs, a civil defence emergency will be declared and people in at-risk areas will be evacuated.

Ash-clouds can spread far from a volcano, meaning that even people who live far away may be affected.

Before a volcanic eruption

1. Ask your local council about the risk of volcanic eruption in your area and whether there is an emergency plan.

2. Prepare your own emergency response plan and emergency kits.

When a volcanic eruption threatens

1. Put your emergency plan into action.

2. Stay informed. Listen to the radio for official advice.

3. Be ready to evacuate if you're instructed to do so.

4. If there is ash in your water, let it settle and then use the clear water. If there is a lot of ash in the water supply, do not use your dishwasher or washing machine.

5. Disconnect your drainpipes from the gutters to prevent them becoming blocked by ash, if you're able to do this safely.

6. Bring your animals inside.

For more information on a hypothetical event in Auckland you can listen to a Radio NZ report here.

When a volcanic eruption is imminent

1. It's vital that you try to keep ash out of your home. Close all doors and windows, and seal any gaps (use damp towels along the bottom edges). Seal off any air intakes and if you have air conditioning, shut it down.

2. Protect your electronics from volcanic ash damage. (Volcanic ash is abrasive and mildly corrosive, and it can damage your computer and electronic systems. There is also evidence that it can act as a conductor.) 

  • Shut down all computers, electric motors and electronic systems.
  • Cover and seal them - including electric panels.
  • If ash falls, avoid using them until it has been completely cleaned up.  

3. Cover and protect machinery in a similar way. 

During a volcanic eruption

1. Protect yourself from ash, which is a health hazard. Stay indoors. 

2. Heavy falls of ash may collapse your roof. Identify the strongest part of your home and stay there. Be ready to evacuate if your home shows signs of strain (eg, creaking or moving).

3. Stay informed.

  • Listen to the radio for official advice.
  • Only make short and urgent phone calls, to avoid overloading the lines.

4. If you have to go outside, cover your body and face. Don't wear contact lenses, as these can cause corneal abrasions.

5. If you're trapped outside, seek shelter in a car or building, and cover your nose and mouth with some clothing.

After a volcanic eruption

1. Stay informed.

  • Listen to the radio for civil defence advice.

2. Keep yourself safe.

  • Stay inside until ash stops falling and you're informed that it's safe to leave the house.
  • Drink your stored water until you're sure the water supply is free of ash.

3. Look after your property.

  • Get advice from authoritites before cleaning up volcanic ash, which is a health hazard. (Ash should be dampened first and you must cover your mouth, nose and eyes.) 
  • If you decide to remove ash from your roof or gutters, be extremely careful. Lightly dampen the ash first. 
  • If there is ash inside your house:
    • Vacuum your carpets and upholstery. Change your vacuum filters and bags frequently - and continue to do this over the coming months.
    • Rinse (rather than wipe) ornaments and other objects with surfaces that may scratch.
    • Carefully vacuum polished surfaces then blot them with a damp cloth.
    • Rinse fabrics under running water then wash them in plenty of water. 
  • Avoid using your dishwasher or washing machine, as there maybe ash in the water supply.
  • Avoid driving, as ash can damage your engine.
  • Report broken power lines to authorities.
  • If you can, take photos of damage for insurance purposes.


  • Get advice on being prepared for an ash fall, what to do during an ash fall, and cleaning up afterwards from GNS Science.
  • Learn about the health hazards of volcanic ash and dealing with an ashfall (pamphlets) on the website of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN). 


  • Get Thru has instructions for how to prepare for and respond to a volcanic eruption.
  • GeoNet shows the current alert level for all New Zealand’s volcanoes.


  • Auckland Museum’s interactive exhibition Volcanoes looks as the scientific and human stories of volcanoes. (EQC sponsored the establishment of this exhibition and the related Volcanoes website.)

  • The Volcanic Activity Centre at Wairakei, near Taupo, provides a visitor experience that includes simulators, interactive displays, scientific instruments and video. (EQC is a long-term sponsor of the centre.)

  • Te Papa's Awesome Forces exhibition shows how plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and erosion have shaped our landscape – and the lives of the people who live here. Quake Braker is an underground space that displays some of the 135 base isolators that Te Papa sits on. (EQC has sponsored Awesome Forces and Quake Braker since 2008.)

Learn more about EQC's public education programme.


  • Stories of New Zealand’s volcanic eruptions start way back with early accounts of the Taupo eruption 1800 years ago (Te Ara website) and the long extinct Rangitoto (Auckland Museum website).
  • The devastating eruption of Tarawera in 1886 killed more than 100 people and buried the famous Pink and White Terraces (Te Ara website).
  • Small eruptions have occurred on Mt Ruapehu throughout recorded history – most recently in 1995 and 1996 (Te Ara website).

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