We’d booked our trip to
many weeks ago. Sacha had expressed an interest in seeing some of White Island ’s
geology, so we thought a visit to an active volcano would be just the ticket.
The boat leaves from Whakatane at 0915, which is about an hour’s drive from
Rotorua, so we were up and out of the house before eight for the drive. It was
raining, but we weren’t about to let a little thing like that stop us: we’d
contacted the tour operator the night before, and they’d told us to call early
in the morning for a final check on whether the trip was going ahead. They gave
us the green light, and off we went. New Zealand
We got a bit caught up in commuter traffic as we were entering Whakatane, but made it to the White Island rendezvous with ten minutes in hand – enough time to read the somewhat frightening disclaimer of liability, and sign away our rights to blame the company if anything goes wrong. “It’s a live volcano: if it erupts, it’s not our fault.” We boarded the boat, the Pee Jay 5, with around 50 others, and took the long and choppy ride out to
– a trip of about 90 minutes. A
few people, myself included, felt a bit queasy on the way out, and had to be
seated outside at the rear of the boat, looking back at the horizon. White Island
Before leaving the boat, we were given another safety talk – what to do in the event of an eruption or landslide. We were also issued with hard hats and gas masks, and instructed in their use. Then it was off to the island on a RIB, as there isn’t anywhere suitable for the Pee Jay 5 to moor.
The island has been previously inhabited by sulphur miners, and has been owned by various people before the current owners, who have an agreement with the Government to keep it as a conservation area. The tour around the island led us round some active steam vents, where the sulphur condensing was clearly visible, as well as bubbling pools of water. The smell of hydrogen sulphide was pretty strong, but the vents also give out sulphur dioxide and hydrogen chloride, which when mixed with water form sulphuric and hydrochloric acids respectively – this catches in your throat and makes your eyes water. When you get a waft of it towards you, you realise that the gas masks aren’t just for show, and we were all wearing them for a lot of the time whilst walking around the active areas. We went up to the edge of the current active crater, and looked down at the activity below. The island is classified as active class 1 – which means that thee are signs of activity but no eruption imminent. If the volcano was closer to human habitation it would be class 2, but its remoteness knocks it down a grade.
|Steam, sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide comes out of the ground|
|Those gas masks aren't just for show!|
|Boiling mud pools|
The tour also gave us some insight into the lives of the sulphur miners who used to live there, and the ruins of the sulphur works (abandoned in 1933 when the company went bankrupt). Amazingly, there is both plant and animal life on the island – grasses and pohutukawa trees, and colonies of seabirds, notably Australasian gannets.
We had a packed lunch back on board, then set off back to the mainland with a much smoother ride, as the swell and the wind were behind us. We got back around 4pm, and went to find a cake and teas/coffees before driving back to Rotorua. We’d been lucky with the weather all day as, although showers had been forecast all day, they held off whilst we were on the island, and it only rained whilst we were aboard or driving.