Art, Stories and Travel

Beneath the Surface – geology

Geology New Zealand Volcanoes Taupo Volcanic Zone

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This is a series of five paintings I did in Rotorua during the 2019/2020 Summer Artist Residency. Just prior to my residency Whakaari erupted just off the Bay of Plenty coast with devastating consequences. My first painting is: Calling in the Fire.

Calling in the Fire

Original: 900 x 600mm Acrylic on Canvas, 2020

Originals Available for Sale as a set of two with ‘Who’s Fault is it?’ SOLD


I based this painting on the Maori legend of their Tuhunga: (Ngatoro) and his associate Ngauruhoe who made the long journey from Makatu (on the coast where the Arawa canoe landed) to Tongariro. They were dying of cold on the snow-capped mountains so called out to Ngatoro’s sisters in Hawaii. The sisters sent the fire demons… who travelled under the Pacific ocean. When the gods reached White Island they emerged causing a volcano which is still active. They then continued to the coast and emerged for directions at various places: Rotorua, Tarawera, Orakei-Korako and Taupo before finally reaching Tongariro. From this myth came the Maori belief that there is a tunnel of fire following this path through the Kermadec Ridge in the Pacific Ocean.


The activity zone is now known by geologists as the Taupo Volcanic zone. The painting depicts the link between Whakaari, the Rotorua lakes, Taupo to the Tongariro trio. The area is named after Taupo because it is the most violent eruption in our recorded 5000 year-old world history. All of New Zealand was covered in at least 1cm of ash, while areas near the lake were buried in more than 100 metres of ash/lava. It is thought that ash from this eruption caused red sunsets recorded by the Romans and Chinese at that time.

The recent eruption of Whakaari ( December 2019) and tragic deaths and burns of visitors to the crater has again highlighted this risk. Rotorua sits in the middle of this active zone and the lake is formed from a volcanic crater…. although an estimated 240,000 years ago. Some activity is however MUCH more recent; in 1886 the massive Tarawera eruption also killed some tourists and many locals who were involved in hosting visitors from Rotorua to the famed pink and white terraces. Ngauruhoe erupted last in 1977, and Ruapehu in 2007 and Tongariro in 2012. Tongariro and Ruapehu continue to steam away and are constantly monitored – as was Whakaari.

Who’s Fault is it?

900 x 300mm Acrylic on Canvas, 2020

Original Available as a set of two: SOLD

Who’s Fault is it?

This painting is based upon the same myth and shows a schematic section of land between Whakaari on the far right and Ruapehu/Ngauruhoe/Tongariro on the far left. Taupo and Rotorua lakes sit between them. The ‘tunnel’ of the myth is in fact the continental plate fault line. The Pacific plate disappears below the Australian plate and creates the Taupo Volcanic hot zone – just as the myth describes. The painting reminds us that volcanoes and earthquakes are linked. The friction of the plates causes the heat that emerges as volcanic/earthquake and geyser activity.

See also the recent posts and art based upon walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Whakaari (White island)

Tarawera Crater

Tongariro/ Ngauruhoe/Ruapehu

Triptych of Volcanic Activity:

3×300 x 300mm Acrylic on Canvas 2020

Originals Available as a set of three all framed SOLD

These paintings show the sites of some of the active zones in the Taupo Active Zone. Whakaari which has tragically taken lives recently. Tarawera which also claimed victims 120 years ago, and the Tongariro triumvirate which still attracts huge number of visitors.


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