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  • The city of Auckland is built on a volcanic field. There are 50 volcanoes within an area of 1,000 square kilometres, forming the hills, lakes and basins of the city. Rangitoto Island was formed by the most recent volcanic eruption 600 years ago – the blink of an eye in geological terms.

    Rights: Public domain

    Scoria volcano

    Mt Eden with Auckland city in the background. Mt Eden is a scoria volcano that has been produced by the Auckland volcanic field.

    Auckland’s volcanic field

    All of Auckland’s volcanoes come from one magma source. Underlying Auckland is a diffuse pool of magma that occasionally finds its way to the surface. Unlike a ‘classic’ volcano – such as Mt Taranaki or Mt Ngāuruhoe with a single vent through the crust – in Auckland, the magma finds different routes through the crust and erupts in a different place each time.

    Each volcanic cone in Auckland stems from a separate eruption from the pool of magma that lies under the city. It’s unlikely that the magma will push through in the same place twice, so each volcano that can be seen on today’s landscape can be thought of as dormant. However, the underlying magma is still active – it may come through at a new place and form a new cone next week, next year or next century.

    Rights: Bruce Hayward

    Auckland volcanic field

    Auckland is built of an active volcanic field. This map shows the volcanoes from past eruptions.

    In 2014, 14 Tūpuna Maunga were returned to Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau (the mana whenua tribes of Auckland). The Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority (Maunga Authority) was established to co-govern these sacred sites.

    Map from Volcanoes of Auckland: A field guide, by Bruce Hayward, 2019, Auckland University Press.

    The explosions of Auckland scoria cone volcanoes would have only affected areas of 5–20 square kilometres (the size of an average suburb), but while the fallout of rock and scoria is limited for this type of volcano, the fine ash particles can travel widely.

    See this article Auckland’s forgotten volcano about work that scientists undertook researching and mapping Auckland’s volcanic field.

    Where will the next volcano be?

    Dr Jan Lindsay, a scientist at The University of Auckland who studies the Auckland volcanic field, thinks the most likely scenario is for an eruption to form in a location that is currently under water. This would cause a phreatomagmatic explosion – an eruption where the superhot magma interacts with groundwater or seawater at the surface. The heat of the magma instantly changes the water from liquid to gas, forming a lot of steam. At the same time, the hot magma is instantly changed from a liquid to a solid, shattering in the process. The steam explodes upwards violently, carrying fragments of ash and rocks from the magma in a spectacular eruption.

    Volcanoes in Auckland

    Dr Jan Lindsay talks about the Auckland volcanic field – what it is, where it is and what it means for the volcanoes that lie underneath our biggest city.

    These types of eruptions have happened many times in Auckland’s past. It is estimated that 73% of all Auckland eruptions involved phreatomagmatic eruptions – magma would have met water under the harbour at the beginning of the Rangitoto eruption.

    Rights: Tony Millet

    Pupuke Moana (Lake Pupuke)

    Pupuke Moana (Lake Pupuke) on the North Shore of Auckland is a good example of a maar. It is the crater of a scoria cone volcano that last erupted around 140,000 years ago. The lava from explosions at Lake Pupuke trapped many trees, which have become fossilised. These are still visible at Takapuna beach.

    Acknowledgement: Google Earth

    Phreatomagmatic eruptions leave behind a distinct shape in the cone of the resulting volcano, referred to as a maar – a roughly circular crater about 1 km in diameter that is surrounded by a ring of pyroclastic material. Good examples can be found at Lake Pupuke, Orakei Basin and Crater Hill.

    What type of rock is involved?

    The Auckland volcanic field mainly produces scoria cone volcanoes. Scoria is a type of andesite or basalt rock (depending on the exact mineral composition). These rocks are quite dark in colour and, in the case of scoria, can contain holes where gas was once trapped in the rock as it cooled. The scoria and basalt from previous Auckland eruptions has been widely used for building roads, pavements and buildings. Some volcanoes have been mined to the extent that they no longer exist as hills – they are now just holes in the ground.

    Scientists continue to study the Auckland volcanic field, read about some unexpected discoveries in the article Auckland's forgotten volcanoes. The DEVORA (DEtermining VOlcanic Risk in Auckland) team often make quirky discoveries about the volcanic field – including lava tubes and 28,000 year old tree remains buried under a lava flow.

    Related content

    Explore our wide range of resource on volcanoes in this introductory article. Realistic contexts connect students to authentic scientific processes and purposes. It’s all explained in Volcanoes resources – planning pathways.

    Foulden Maar is a maar of geological significance in Otago. Learn about the ancient fossils of Foulden Maar and the fight to protect the site from mining.

    Activity ideas

    Go on a volcano hunt, which covers the length of Aoteaora. Then discover how scientists and others help us stay safe in these shaky isles with the activities Watching Rangitoto erupt, Who's on your team? and Home disaster kit.

      Published 9 April 2010, Updated 28 November 2022 Referencing Hub articles
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