Volcanic activity can include hazards such as ashfall, falling rocks, very fast moving mixtures of hot gases and volcanic rock, lava flows and massive mudflows. Find out what to do before, during and after volcanic activity.

Get ready before volcanic activity

Find out about the volcanic risk in your community. Talk to your local Civil Defence Emergency Management Group and find out how they will warn you of a volcanic eruption.

Work out what supplies you might need and make a plan together.

If you are at risk from volcanic ash fall (especially in Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, northern Manawatu, Northland, Taranaki and Waikato), add the following to your emergency supplies.

  • Certified disposable dust masks (rated P2 or N95) and goggles
  • Plastic wrap or plastic sheeting (to keep ash out of electronics)
  • Cleaning supplies including an air duster (available at hardware stores), a broom, a shovel, and a vacuum cleaner with spare bags and filters
  • Heavy-duty plastic bags to dispose of ash

You could be stuck in your vehicle, so remember to store emergency supplies there too.

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In an emergency, you may be stuck at home for three days or more. Figure out what supplies you need and make a plan to work out what you need to get your family through.

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Make a plan online with your family/flatmates/friends to get through an emergency. Think about the things you need every day and work out what you would do if you didn’t have them.

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The National Emergency Management Agency has information on finding your local Civil Defence Emergency Management Group.

What to do during volcanic activity

Stay informed by listening to the radio or following your local Civil Defence Emergency Management Group online.

Follow official advice provided by your local Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, the Department of Conservation (for Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu or Taranaki only), local authorities, and emergency services in the area.

During ash fall

Put your Emergency Plan into action. Listen to the radio for updates.  Follow instructions of Emergency Services and the National Emergency Management Agency.

Stay indoors as volcanic ash is a health hazard, especially if you have respiratory difficulties such as asthma or bronchitis.

Do not attempt to clear ash from your roof while ash is falling.

Keep pets indoors.

Do not drive when there is ash on the road.

Avoid unnecessary exposure to ash until it has settled. If you have to go outside, wear protective clothing: a properly-fitted P2 or N95-rated mask, goggles, strong footwear, gloves and long clothing.

Do not wear contact lenses because trapped ash can scratch your eyes. Wear glasses instead.

If ash fall has been forecast for your region

Before ash fall starts, go home if possible, to avoid driving or walking during ash fall.

If you are sight impaired, wear eyeglasses. Do not wear contact lenses because trapped ash can scratch your eyes.

Bring pets inside and move livestock into closed shelters if possible to protect them from volcanic ash. Airborne ash can cause eye and skin irritation and accumulate in sheep fleece. Ensure that animals have supplementary feed and access to clean drinking water. Ash ingestion is hazardous to livestock.

Close all windows and doors and shut down heat pumps to limit the entry of volcanic ash. Set up a single entry point for your house and place damp towels at the threshold to prevent ash being tracked indoors.

Cover sensitive electronics. Do not remove covers until the indoor environment is totally ash free.

Cover vehicles, machinery and spa pools to avoid ash causing damage by corroding metal surfaces and causing abrasion damage to windscreens and paintwork.

Disconnect drainpipes/downspouts from gutters to stop drains clogging. If you use a rainwater collection system for your water supply, disconnect the tank.

Check on your neighbours and anyone who might need your help.

Stay out of designated restricted zones.

What to do after a volcanic eruption

Continue to follow official advice provided by your local Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, the Department of Conservation (for Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu or Taranaki only), local authorities and emergency services.

If you have evacuated, do not return home until told it is safe to do so.

Keep children indoors and discourage play in ash.

Keep animals indoors until ash is cleaned up or washed away. If pets go outside, brush them before letting them back indoors.

  • It is important to clean up ash promptly, as it is a health hazard and can cause damage to buildings and machinery. 

    When cleaning up, follow advice and instructions from your local council and Civil Defence Emergency Management Group. Be aware that:

    • ash clean-up is physically demanding and time-consuming;
    • in bulk, ash is much heavier than people often expect.;
    • repeated cleaning or multiple clean-ups may be necessary; and
    • water restrictions are likely after ash fall. Use water very sparingly to avoid depleting water supplies.

    Wear protective clothing (long clothing, heavy footwear, a properly-fitted P2 or N95 mask and goggles).

    If you are sight impaired, wear eyeglasses. Do not wear contact lenses because trapped ash can scratch your eyes.

    Clean up ash indoors first

    Any ash indoors should be cleaned up promptly to protect indoor air quality.

    Ash is much more abrasive than ordinary house dust.  The best cleaning methods to prevent scratching damage are vacuuming and rinsing (using water sparingly).

    If possible, clean electronic equipment such as televisions, phones and tablets with an air duster, available at hardware stores, to avoid scratching delicate surfaces.

    Cleaning up outdoor areas

    Wait until ash has stopped falling before starting any outdoor clean-up.

    Clean ash off the roof. Roof clean-up must be carefully planned as it is highly hazardous. Use safe working methods. 

    For driveways and other hard surfaces, lightly wet the surface of the ash then use a broom to sweep up. Avoid dry sweeping as this creates high levels of airborne ash.

    Remove ash from car paintwork and windscreens with water, but use water sparingly. Avoid rubbing as this can cause abrasion damage.

    Follow official instructions about ash collection and storage. Contact your local council and your local Civil Defence Emergency Management Group for more information.

    Where possible, dispose of small amounts of ash on your own property by spreading thinly over lawns and digging ash into vegetable gardens. 

    Do not dispose of ash into drains as it can cause blockages and be difficult to remove.

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Information on working safely on roofs is available on the WorkSafe website.

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Information on how to clean up ash is available on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website.

  • A volcano is a landform that results from a volcanic eruption.

    New Zealand is situated on the Ring of Fire, around the Pacific Ocean. This ring contains about 90% of the Earth’s active volcanoes. 

    Volcanic unrest is increased activity without a volcanic eruption. Volcanic unrest can produce hazards on or near the volcano. Most volcanic eruptions follow unrest, but not all unrest episodes lead to volcanic eruptions. This makes managing unrest challenging for scientists and civil defence emergency management, and means that you might find unrest unsettling. Unrest can last for days, weeks, months or years.

    Volcanic eruptions produce several near and far-reaching hazards. The most widespread and disruptive hazard is usually volcanic ash.

    Volcanic areas in New Zealand

    There are 11 active volcanic areas (above the water) in New Zealand.

    Eight are in the North Island.

    • Auckland Volcanic Field
    • Northland (Kaikohe–Bay of Islands and Whangarei Volcanic Fields)
    • Okataina (including Tarawera)
    • Rotorua
    • Ruapehu
    • Taranaki
    • Taupō
    • Tongariro (including Ngauruhoe, Te Maari and Red Crater)

    Three are offshore.

    • The Kermadec Islands (Raoul and Macauley islands)
    • Mayor Island | Tuhua
    • White Island | Whakaari

    There are many more underwater volcanoes in the Kermadec Volcanic Arc between the North Island and Tonga.

    Types of volcanoes

    Volcanoes come in different shapes and sizes. There are three main types found in New Zealand.

    • Cone volcanoes, such as White Island, Ruapehu, Taranaki and Tongariro (which includes Ngauruhoe).
    • Volcanic fields, such as the the Auckland Volcanic Field.
    • Caldera volcanoes, such as across the central Taupō Volcanic Zone (the area from Taupō to Tarawera) and Mayor Island.

    New Zealand volcanoes produce a range of hazards and have different levels of activity. White Island (Whakaari) and Ngauruhoe have been the busiest volcanoes in our recorded history, closely followed by Ruapehu. Some of our other volcanoes can have hundreds or even thousands of years between eruptions.

    Volcanic eruptions in New Zealand have injured people, killed people and destroyed property. For example, the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886 killed at least 106 people, and a lahar on Mount Ruapehu in 1953 caused the deaths of 151 people in the Tangiwai railway disaster.

    Ash fall is the most likely volcanic hazard for most people in the North Island. Ash can travel a long way, depending on the wind, and can cause health problems for people and animals and damage buildings and cars due to abrasion and its weight.

Find out more about what you need to do before, during and after these hazards.