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Taupo – A Geologic Hotspot

Now, lest you think that the Taupo Museum focused solely on fiber arts during my visit, at least half of the facility is dedicated to the natural and geologic history of this area, and of New Zealand.

Taupo Volcano

Taupo Volcano

Having now spent a week in this region, I was well aware of the geologic history, and also current events.  I was in Taupo when the largish earthquakes struck the North End of South Island and also Wellington, at the south end of the North Island.  The smell of sulfur was overwhelming on the days of heavy geologic activity.  The museum covers much of the history of Lake Taupo and its origin.  Taupo volcano last erupted over 1,800 years ago and is now filled by New Zealand’s largest lake. 

Taupo volcano first began to erupt over 300,000 years ago. It is very large and has many vents, most of which are now under Lake Taupo. Geological studies of Taupo show that the volcano makes up only the northern half of the lake and a small surrounding area but there have been numerous eruptions from different sites within this large volcano. Taupo is not a large mountain because the eruptions have been so explosive that all material has been deposited far from the vent and subsequent collapse of the ground has formed a caldera (a collapsed volcano).

Volcanic Rock

Scoria, Volcanic Rock

The museum includes a good exhibit of different types of volcanic rock formed during the various volcanic events.  Above is scoria, which is a frothy volcanic rock formed from cooled anbesite or basalt lava, ranging in color from red to black.  Its formation can occur from fire-fountaining when lava is blown into the air.  The fragments cool to form scoria.

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

The mountains to the west in Tongariro National Park are all volcanic. The three volcanoes at the heart of the park, the mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, form the southern limits of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Volcanic activity in the zone started about 2 million years ago and continues today.  Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are two of the most active composite volcanoes in the world. In 1995 and again in 1996 Ruapehu erupted in spectacular fashion, sending clouds of ash and steam skyward and mantling the surrounding snow fields and forest with a thick film of ash.

Moa Skeleton

Moa Skeleton

In additon to the exhibit about volcanism, the museum did have one relic of former avifauna, the flightless Moa that was quickly exterminated by the first Maori settlers.This skeleton is of a young Moa, found at the bottom of a deep cave in 1970 by two 13-year-old boys.  The bones are estimated to be about 2,000 years old, although they could be older.  It is thought that this Moa may have taken refuge in the cave during a forest fire or volcanic eruption.  A violent eruption occurred at Taupo about 146 a.d.

The Moa  consisted of nine species of flightless birds endemic to New Zealand. The two largest species, Dinornis robustus and Dinornis novaezelandiae, reached about 3.6 m (12 ft) in height with neck outstretched, and weighed about 230 kg (510 lb).

Totara Waka from Opepe

Totara Waka from Opepe

I found this impressive waka, made from a Totara tree in the south exhibit hall that focused on New Zealand’s human history.  Waka are Maori canoes ranging in size from small, unornamented canoes (waka tīwai) used for fishing and river travel, to large decorated war canoes (waka taua) up to 40 metres (130 ft) long.  It is believed that the first Maori to arrive in New Zealand traveled in waka from Polynesia.  Totara is a species of podocarp tree endemic to New Zealand. It grows throughout the North Island and northeastern South Island in lowland, montane and lower subalpine forest at elevations of up to 600 m.

Taupo Museum Garden

Taupo Museum Garden

While outside in the courtyard, a small, carefully manicured garden created a quiet respite from the noisy rooms within.  It featured native plants and included Maori culture, such as the forest got below.

Te Ihi Kei Roto/Nga Ponga

Te Ihi Kei Roto/Nga Ponga

The Spirit that Dwells within the Tree Ferns – Several ponga tree sculptures present in the garden evoke the handiwork of Patupaiarehe, a tribe of forest guardians said by the Maori to play music and carve artworks.   It seems particularly appropriate as my time in Taupo was rapidly drawing to a close and my next destination was Maungatautari, Sanctuary Mountain, a sacred place to yours truly.

So long Taupo!  It was wonderful to spend some time within your beautiful region!





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