Close Call on the Volcano

During late September 1995 Jo and I decided to make the trip to Mt Ruapehu, staying at the National Park for some snowboarding at the Whakapapa Ski Field. The forecast was perfect with a fresh dump of snow the night before. We got up early and drove up to base at Whakapapa and headed out on the National Chairlift.

Whakapapa Trail Map 2013 v6 copy

Just after getting off the lift it stopped working and wasn’t to bring anymore people up to that side of the ski field for the rest of the day. It couldn’t get any better, glorious sunshine and miles of untouched powder everywhere and only about 30-40 people on that side of the ski field.

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Enjoying the untouched snow

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Jo stops for a photo with all the virgin snow ahead

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Not a soul in sight

We went up on the West Ridge Chair Lift and then up the Far West T-Bar. Every run down was making fresh tracks in the snow never crossing another persons tracks if you didn’t want to. Jo and I had discussed hiking up to the Crater Lake but it would have taken hours and the snow was so good we decided to stay where we were. It was an absolutely amazing day, one of those memories that make you smile every time you think of it.

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Me with the peak of Ruapehu behind

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Jo stopped for lunch with a view of the top of the mountain with the crater lake just beyond it

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Jo by the West Ridge Chair Lift

By the end of the afternoon we were exhausted with every single muscle in our bodies seeming to ache. Calling it a day we made their way back to the car park. While driving down the mountain back to the National Park we put the radio on in the car and within minutes the news came on.

Ruapehu Erupts

Ruapehu erupts and lahar flows through the ski field

Mt Ruapehu had erupted and hot lahar had raced down the three valleys, one lahar narrowly missing the Whakapapa Far West T-Bar and its queuing area, where only an hour earlier we had been snowboarding.

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Lahar through the Whakapapa Ski Field near the Far West T

Ruapehu is one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes, and the highest mountain on the North Island. Ruapehu is located at the southern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. The volcano has a crater lake which many people would hike up to and ski or snowboard back down on the untouched snow, something we had considered earlier in the day.

Around 5 p.m. on Saturday 23 September 1995, lake water, steam and ash were suddenly blasted into the sky, rocks were tossed up to 1.5 kilometres from the crater. A cloud of steam and volcanic ash rose up to 12 kilometres. With many more eruptions in the following days and weeks the ski areas on Mt Ruapehu were all closed and the mountain continued to rumble well into 1996. Sadly that meant the end of our snowboarding trip, so after visiting Taupo we drove back to Taranaki and Oakura where we lived.

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Oakura

When we arrived home one of the best swells I can remember was hitting the west coast.

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Walking down to the Kumara Patch

Walking through the farm to the Kumara Patch we passed another surfer who said ‘you’re gonna need that’ pointing at my board. I thought he was taking the piss as I’d sold my shortboard and only had a 6′ 9″ pintail that had been shaped for Indonesia the previous year, not exactly my first choice of board for the Patch.

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Kumara Patch

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Kumara Patch

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Kumara Patch

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Kumara Patch

There were lots of people milling about on the beach among all the drift wood but I could only see two people out in the line up. I paddled out straight off the point but by the time I eventually got outside I’d been washed a couple of hundred metres away from the line up.

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Kumara Patch

I had one of the best surfs I’ve ever had with huge long walling lefts that seemed to go on for ever and ever and I never met the other two guys in the line up as it was such a long paddle back after each wave.

Paul Blackley

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