Outfall Crater Lake, Mount Ruapehu

Patricia Howitt

Kaeo, New Zealand

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About This Painting
Crater Lake on Mount Ruapehu is unusual – it is a permanently glaciated, warm water volcanic crater lake. There is a photo taken in the 1950s of a bunch of bathing belles swimming in its waters – no doubt flown in there for the day’s photo shoot. From what I’ve seen of it in person, I doubt anyone would fancy doing that today.

This is a view of one of the natural vents on the side of the mountain just below the crater’s edge that is supposed to keep the waters and mud in the lake from building pressure and breaching the lake walls, as happened with disastrous results on Christmas Eve 1953 when part of the lake wall collapsed and the resulting lahar swept away a rail bridge in the valley below minutes before the night train from Wellington to Auckland crossed the bridge.

Our Geol Survey now has the lake closely monitored. Recently, another blowout (which had in fact been forecast) hit Dome Shelter just below the lake where two young men had stopped for the night, and they were lucky to escape with their lives.

As I painted this, my mind went to what it must have been like for the early explorers to discover these wilderness places, with all their eerie ‘presence’ and power. In the final year of my studies, part of my work involved searching titles in the Land Transfer Office – in the days of physical not computer searches, and I’d experienced holding in my hands some original survey field notebooks from NZ’s early surveyors, who were also often gifted artists – so I decided to paint all this into the painting.

No doubt those survey books are now safely under lock and key in the Alex Turnbull Library, or somewhere similar. I was lucky.

Acrylic on canvas board 25 × 30in.

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Artwork Comments

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