Mt Ruapehu: Residents play it cool over activity

Crater lakes temperatures at Mt Ruapehu have been slowly rising. Photo: GNS Science.

"He'll do what he wants to do" is a common sentiment shared among Ruapehu locals.

This week their maunga had its strongest tremor in two decades while the crater lake has now reached 39C.

It gave GNS Science volcanologists plenty to talk about. However for locals, life carried on as normal.

Kasey Smith has been working up Mount Ruapehu at a coffee cart for the past two years.

Despite being situated just to the side of a lahar path, Smith says she has no concerns about the heightened level of activity.

"They just sorta all laugh about it, all the locals. They will say, 'oh there's a bit of movement today'.

"They are all so calm about it, which makes me calm as well."

As locals stay unfazed, Smith says visitors are not as relaxed, with many calling the information centre with questions around their safety.

"We have heard of people being scared and cancelling the [holiday] park. They've been cancelling their rooms saying they don't want to come to the mountain."

Ruapehu District mayor Don Cameron says some easily forget the mountain is "a living being".

"We do live in a special place, but it does have its slight downside in that it could, at any time, tell us who's the boss."

Ruapehu District mayor Don Cameron says the mountain is "a living being". Photo: RNZ Insight/Laura Dooney.

And the boss it is. As Cameron chats under blue skies, Mount Ruapehu seems to be demanding that all the clouds encircle it.

Cameron says Ruapehu Civil Defence officials spent part of the week working on a plan for a possible eruption.

He says the Whakaari/White Island eruption in 2019 shook many people in Civil Defence teams.

However, his district is well prepared thanks to previous eruptions.

He holds firm that no locals or visitors to the region would be in any imminent danger if an eruption did occur.

"No matter what happens, it is highly unlikely any of the towns are going to be affected in any way at all.

"It's a geological wonder that people come to see, especially when it's erupting. If you do come here, you know you are going to be safe because if anything does happen you will be told to move - but again that is highly, highly unlikely."

The thought visitors might choose to stay away due to the heightened activity is keeping Colin Baker up at night, as he contemplates another tough winter season ahead.

Baker, who owns Ruapehu Scenic Shuttles, says he needs this season to go well after lockdown last year hit right in his peak period.

"Since the alert level was raised, people don't want to do the Tongariro Crossing.

"But it's like moths to a flame. People will probably still come. But I think they won't be planning so far in advance."

Baker has seen all of the eruptions since 1995, the first of which happened shortly after he moved to the region.

"The dust is something I always remember from the 1996 eruption. But the eruptions are small and they don't really affect us."

Local Dean Corrigan was working for the Department of Conservation at the time Mount Ruapehu erupted in 2007, spewing a lahar down to the Whangaehu River.

He was later sent up to assess damage at the Dome Shelter.

"From memory it wasn't wide, it was quite a narrow strip from where it went. It just found the path of where it was going to go obviously.

"I don't recall hearing it."

Like many locals, Corrigan says he's not phased at the possibility of another eruption.

He simply hopes this time, he has a good view.

"Some people might be quite apprehensive about it.

"Safety wise, it's life isn't it? We don't know what's going to happen in five seconds' time. So if it's going to do something let's hope it's a clear day with a front row seat for what our friend out there is going to do."

-RNZ/Leah Tebbutt.

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