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PHOTO: BROOK SABIN Water in the Inferno Crater can heat to 80C.

It’s 2am, and explosions are echoing around New Zealand. In Christchurch, some hear an unusual faint boom. In Auckland, others think Russian warships are staging a surprise attack.

Nobody could imagine the horrors unfolding in the Central North Island, where a 10-kilometre plume of ash is rocketing into the atmosphere, wrapped in an almost constant stream of lightning.

It’s 1886, and Mount Tarawera has just erupted. The fury of Earth is unfathomable: most life within 6km is obliterated, with the loss of around 120 people and several villages. Lake Rotomahana is blown to 20 times its size and the unofficial Eighth Wonder of the World, the Pink and White Terraces, is buried. Violent lava and steam explosions create around 15 craters.