Climbing a volcano: Mt Tarawera, New Zealand

Volcanoes hold some sort of weird fascination – these giant vents that act as conduits for Earth’s innards to spew out and over the surrounding land. There’s a foreboding thought whenever you see a volcano – a sleeping giant, if you will. Who knows when it will wake and wreak havoc?

New Zealand has many volcanoes

Mt Tarawera, on New Zealand’s North Island near Rotorua, erupted with great force on 10 June 1886. It’s New Zealand’s most recent significant eruption, and it killed about 120 people. It also destroyed New Zealand’s then most popular tourist attraction, the Pink and White Terraces.

Image credit: Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

The surrounding landscape was forever changed. Lakes formed over previously forested land, geysers and geothermal hot pools popped up around the place. And on the volcano itself, three huge rips in the earth were evidence of a massive eruption.

Now, Mt Tarawera stands still, a solid presence seen from around the region. It sleeps today, but who knows what may happen in the future?

tarawera trail

You may have guessed that we love outdoor activites. Our recent trip to Rotorua was full of them, so we thought – why not climb a mountain too?

Climbing a volcano with Kaitiaki Adventures Aotearoa

Kaitiaki Adventures Aotearoa is the only company allowed to operate tours on Mt Tarawera. There used to be public access, but this was closed off a decade or so ago due to disagreements among the local Maori tribes. It’s a shame that you can’t go up there by yourself, but it also means that by going with Kaitiaki Adventures, you’ll have the entire mountain to yourself.

mt tarawera

Pretty awesome, huh?

There are two parts to the Mt Tarawera Crater Walk. The Kaitiaki guys pick you up in a big old bus and drive out to the base of the mountain. The journey takes about half an hour, and then there’s another half hour bumping up the narrow gravel road, native bush pressing in on both sides, to the parking area near the crater. Yep, the bus is 4WD! It’s pretty fun bump bump bumping up the side of the mountain.

mt tarawera

The view from the parking area is pretty damn amazing, but then the second part of the experience starts – the crater walk. The walk is not that strenuous, but you need good shoes as the ground is uneven and slippery in some places – the volcanic rock doesn’t hold itself together well!

mt tarawera

In total, the walk is about 2 hours. There are plenty of different vantage points that get you looking into the craters from different perspectives, and it’s just spectacular. It’s like an alien world up there – red and white rock and not much vegetation. It really does feel like a recent eruption has happened there. For a landscape nerd like myself, it was heaven. It was nature at its most raw and powerful.

mt tarawera

At the summit with our guide Maa and a random Korean man!

At the summit of Mt Tarawera you can see for miles. Lake Rotorua is over there, the Bay of Plenty coast and New Zealand’s only constantly active volcano, White Island, is over there, and on a clear day you can even see the volcanoes of the Central Plateau.

mt tarawera

Kaitiaki saves the best part of the trip until last: the 400m scree run. Yep, that’s right, a scree run. 400m of it! Into the crater! It was epic.

mt tarawera

The aim is to go as fast as you can, with your feet sinking into the volcanic rocks as you pound down the side of the crater. Your shoes will get filled with rocks – you can’t do anything about that.

mt tarawera

What an exhilarating feeling! It was by far the best bit of a great trip.

mt tarawera

After pulling out some exotic pest trees (Kaitiaki are very much into conservation and preserving the native ecology on the mountain) we hopped back in our bus and bump bump bumped our way down the mountain and back to Rotorua. Absolutely exhausted.

What a day!

mt tarawera

Thanks to Kaitiaki Adventures Aotearoa for hosting us. As always, you’ll receive our honest opinion regardless of who foots the bill. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram!

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Have you ever climbed a volcano? What was it like?

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