© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Walking on the Crater of an Active Marine Volcano

© NZPocketGuide.com

284 Days on the Road

Update: Tours to White Island are not currently operating. Alternative tours with White Island Tours are available.

We’ve seen it taunting us on the horizon for the last few days blowing off steam in its volcano-y way. Well, no more, White Island! We are coming for you!

Our adventure onto New Zealand’s only active marine volcano begins at White Island Tours base at The Strand in Whakatane. As we check in, we are given some sort of metal milk jug device to hand in to the boat crew as our boarding pass. It’s a reminder of the roots of the company, which started 26 years ago when a couple swapped dairy farming for taking backpackers across the water to White Island (then they would have to swim to shore from the boat back in the day). Today, there are four much larger boats taking people from all walks of life out to the geographical wonder.

Maori legends as we leave Whakatane

On board the Peejay IV, we have an 80-minute boat trip ahead of us to get to the island. We leave the Whakatane River, going through the river mouth and out to sea. One of the guides on the speaker tells us of the Maori legend surrounding the statue of Wairaka seen atop a rock at the river mouth. The epicness of her story is slightly diminished by a seagull that has now become her hat…

Moutohora Island

The next point of interest comes as we grow ever closer to Moutohora (Whale Island). The large pointed island is said to be a completely different experience to White Island, being a forested island sanctuary for native birds. Sounds pretty nice. Can we take a detour there?

Masking up for the volcano

From now on, it’s just a waiting game for that silhouette of an island with a distinct crater billowing out steam to get closer. As we get close enough to see various features of the island, the crew are handing out yellow hard hats and gas masks. Crikey, how dangerous is it going to be out there?!

Here we are, White Island! The boat anchors just off the shore and we load into a motorised rubber boat (sorry, we have no idea about boat lingo). The rubber boat takes four or five short trips to unload people at shore, then we step onto the rugged active volcano.

Stepping on Mars

After 285 days of being in lush forests, urban areas, snowy and glacier-covered mountains, rivers, lakes, and beaches, stepping onto the volcanic wasteland of White Island is another landscape trick up New Zealand’s sleeve. It feels like we’re stepping onto Mars. Smoke rages from the floor not too far in the distance and our next steps are going to take us closer…

Our guide, Kelsey, goes through a quick safety briefing, mentioning that it is not compulsory to wear our gas masks – we won’t be harmed by the fumes – but they will help stop our throats from getting irritated. With that, literally everyone takes off their masks… Such fools!

Getting closer to our volcanic destination!

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A hotbed of geysers, colours, bubbling mud and more!

Following Kelsey’s footsteps as to not stand on something hot and steamy, we walk through a land vibrant with yellows, reds and oranges. Geysers great and small are lined with a yellow coating and constantly shoot out steam and bubbling muddy pools profusely splutter. The activity gets all the more crazy the closer to the crater we get until it gets to the point where the wind changes, we are engulfed in steam, and, hell, we wish we had our gas masks on! Everyone is spluttering and scrambling for their gas masks when our throats start to feel like someone is burning chilli in the kitchen!

We stop plenty of times during the 1h30min tour around the island with Kasey giving us heaps of insights into the research that goes on at White Island, as well as the island’s history and answering everyone’s main question: “Have you ever seen an eruption on the island?!”

Walking along White Island’s volcanic crater

The climax of our volcanic adventure comes with standing on the edge (or as close to the edge as health and safety regulations allow) of the crater looking down into a hotbed of activity. Green lakes produce rising steam, geysers add to the white clouds, and water spurts from under rocks. The place is teaming with photo opportunities that continues on our loop back to shore.

Along the way, we compare the taste of volcano juice straight from the hot streams, as well as stopping at the remains of a mining building coated in orange. It all adds to the effect this weird and wonderful volcanic wasteland has.

Lunch with an island view

With that, we are one of the last to get to boat where a few students are jumping into the water. We are being handed out a lunch box full of sugary goodness then are given a great show to eat it too: circumventing White Island. It’s crazy the diversity of this island, from the steamy and orange rocky side of the island to the green and forested side with even a few seagull and gannet colonies calling the island home.

A dance with dolphins

Once we have had our last look at the island, we shoot back toward Whakatane with White Island becoming that silhouette once again. But wait, there’s more! The boat slows down halfway through the trip, people start rushing around grabbing cameras and whatnot, and there is a muffle on the speakers about… Dolphins!

We join the rush to the bow of the boat and we have an incredible dolphin show ahead. The common dolphins jump around in the distance, while others swim in clear sight just under the bow. Dolphins are always a crowd-pleaser; we almost forgot that we have just been walking around the crater of an active volcano.

Next stop, Rotorua!

Back at shore, we say goodbye to the crew and hit the road for a place that is just as famous for its geothermal activity, Rotorua! We check into our accommodation for the first part of our stay in the sulfuric-smelling city, Planet Backpackers, and get ready for eight days of awesomeness! Join us tomorrow when we hit the Crankworx Festival!

On the edge of epic!

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Want more?

Have you read the yesterday’s post about delving into the White Pine Bush Reserve and relaxing in hot springs? How about these articles:

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See you tomorrow!


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