Walking on an active volcanoe

November 12, 2007   

This last weekend Annabelle and I drove down to Whakatane via the south shore of the Hauraki Gulf. It was a beautiful drive and we stopped at a village hall to buy some homemade cakes for lunch!

 We got to Whakatane in the early afternoon on saturday and checked into the backpackers and then spent the afternoon walking around town. We saw a Maori canoe, a cave that is special to the Moari people and checked out the enterance which reminds me of Morro Bay – there is a standing wave at the harbour enterance and lots of rocks. The harbour is long and narrow and on a rock at the enterance there is a statue of a maori woman.

 On Sunday morning we got on Peejay V a 73 foot custom built powerboat for a ride out the White Island which is 50km offshore. The trip was uneventful except for one of the passengers passing out right next to me – the crew reacted very professionally. The owners of White Island Tours have worked hard to create a great experience they have it down pat.


You are given a gas mask, hard hat and are divided into groups and get into the 15 foot dinghy that ferries you to the pier on White Island.

Below is from White Island tour website

White Island is one of the most fascinating and accessible volcanoes on earth, carrying with it an A grade level of scientific importance.  As New Zealand’s only live marine volcano, scientists and volcanologists worldwide are attracted by its unique features.
The volcano is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 years old.  However, the small portion of the island that is visible above sea level has been in its present form for an estimated  16,000 years  – evidence of a continually changing landscape.

 Walking on White Island is like walking on the moon.  Virtually no vegetation survives the harsh acidic environment inside the crater walls.  Instead, lush beds of yellow and white sulphur crystals grow amongst hissing, steaming, bubbling fumaroles.

 Giant mounds, remnants of the 1914 Great Landslide, dwarf visitors as they wind their way up to the Main Crater.  Venturing to the edge, they are greeted by an amazing sight – an immense crater, with towering walls shielding its spectacular lake and punctuated by steamy vents from which the power of the inner earth constantly belches forth.

 Neighbouring Donald Duck and Noisy Nellie Craters each have their own stories to tell and a view from on high.  Down below, bright yellow chimneys of delicate sulphur crystals enhance the alien landscape and lure the visitor for a closer look.

 In contrast to these natural features, stand the ruins of an old factory, the only human testament to the numerous failed sulphur mining attempts of days gone by, and now slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature.

 Scientific equipment is discreetly positioned around the volcano.  Its activity is constantly being monitored by IGNS (Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences).  A seismograph, survey pegs, magnetometers and a camera all provide information on just what the volcano is up to.  Up-to-date images of the island can be viewed hourly at www.geonet.org.nz

 White Island currently sits on an alert level rating of 1, meaning she is always active, constantly steaming.  Misty, roaring, ashing, rumbling .

 Annabelle and I used our gas masks quite a lot the sulphur really does irritate your throat. The weekend was an exciting experience. Next time I think I will do a diving trip out here – apparently it is amazing as there are pockets of hot air escaping from underwater fumerals.

 We got back really late to Auckland on Sunday night ready for work on Monday morning.

 Hope you had a good weekend where ever you were.

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