A New Zealand volcano in a national park used as a backdrop for The Lord of the Rings films erupted with a brief blast of dark ash yesterday, cancelling flights, but causing no significant damage.
Schoolchildren and dozens of other hikers who were walking on trails along the mountain's base were safe after the eruption of Mount Tongariro. It was the volcano's second blast in less than four months, sending a dark ash plume about three kilometers into the sky.
Authorities issued a no-fly alert above the mountain located in a sparsely populated area of central North Island.
National carrier Air New Zealand advised travellers that some of its flights could be disrupted. Airline spokeswoman Brigitte Ransom said two flights had been cancelled by the afternoon.
The New Zealand Herald reported that about 100 middle-school pupils and teachers were safe, despite hiking on the Tongariro Track at the base of the volcano. Dozens more adults hiking in the region were also uninjured.
Tongariro National Park has three active volcanoes, is a popular tourist destination and was the backdrop for many scenes in The Lord of the Rings films.
Civil defence authorities were advising people in the region to remain indoors and shut their windows to avoid the ash, which could be a health hazard.
Dr Tony Hurst, a volcanologist with GNS Science, said the eruption lasted about five minutes and was unexpected, although scientists had placed the volcano on a higher alert after it erupted in August for the first time in more than a century.
Hurst said the dark ash indicated that magma pressure deep underground caused the eruption. A steam-driven eruption typically produces white ash.
Another New Zealand volcano used as a backdrop for The Lord of the Rings films, Mount Ruapehu, has also shown signs of activity this week.