New Zealand - White Island
Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
124Trip End Ongoing
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There are a couple of companies that sail out to White Island, and a couple more that take you out in a helicopter over the island but we decided to go with White Island Tours who are allowed to trek onto the island and explore the volcanic land around it.
The boat trip took us out past Whale Island (PICS), a smaller protected island just off the coast of Whakatane that is a sanctuary for several species of sea bird. As part of a conservation effort there are only a limited number of tours to the island each year
The journey was surprisingly smooth, especially compared to the huge splashes created by the boat as we sped through the waves (PIC)! We were soon accompanied by a pod of very active dolphins, leaping out of water and doing their best to avoid being captured by anyone's camera. Luckily we managed to get one great action shot (PIC).
As we approached White Island we could see the plumes of steam coming from its massive volcanic crater. It looked quite imposing just steaming away in the middle of the sea, a clear sign that it is still active and simmering just under the surface (PIC). Anchoring just off the shore the tour group took a small dinghy (PIC) to the island and was divided into 3 groups of around 20 people. The island was a stunning landscape of barren rocks sloping down to a black sandy shoreline and multicoloured water lapping at the beach (PIC).
The ground beneath our feet was scattered with black porous rocks (PIC), ejected by the last eruption, the centre of which were bubbled and stringy caused by the molten rock that was apparently still hot within the rocks up to a fortnight after the eruption
The landscape was scarred with landslides, craters, potholes and the yellow staining of sulphur crystals (PIC) surrounding the giant fumaroles that spurted out clouds of steam all around the main crater. The largest crater, in the centre of the island, is the most active area and contains a lake that varies in depth, temperature and acidity (sometimes reaching over 70 degrees and dropping to below pH0 - acidic enough to melt through clothes, skin and bone!) (PIC).
We passed some scientists who visit the island every couple of months to collect test data on the lake and atmosphere around the island. They also monitor the gas emissions, tremors (using a seismograph) and take photographs every 30 minutes via digital cameras mounted around the island. The scientists on this visit were turning around and leaving; the steam was too intense for them to carry out their tests so they had abandoned their experiments.
The atmosphere in certain parts of the island was quite toxic and made breathing very difficult, resulting in a strong caustic taste in the back of our throats. It was at these times that we wore our rather fetching gas masks (PIC) - they didn't cut out the smell completely but made things a bit more comfortable when the fumes were particularly strong
The island has also been used for commercial purposes on two separate occasions, namely as a sulphur mine. The first attempt ended in tragedy when an enormous landslide in 1914 engulfed the miner's huts and killed all of the inhabitants of the island. The second attempt, about 9 years later had marginally more success and mining lasted for a decade before being abandoned. The remains of the factory still stand at one end of the island, giving an eerie backdrop to the island with its 'ghost-town' resemblance (PICS).
Leaving White Island (and its vivid red rocks (PICS)) we cruised back to Whakatane. The journey back was into the wind and threw up even more water over the front of the boat - soaking us in the process! We moved inside and promptly fell asleep until we arrived back at the mainland
Leaving Whakatane we drove west to Tauranga via Te Puka. We stopped at the latter for a quick picture of yet another 'giant' model that the Aussies and Kiwis seem to love. This one was probably more iconic than most -for obvious reasons. The giant 'Kiwi 360' (PIC) is part of an enormous kiwi fruit farm producing the majority of the fruit for export out of the country. We didn't bother looking round the farm, as it wasn't the right time of season - but we still took in the massive fruit from the roadside!
Passing through the other side of Tauranga we headed around the Coromandel Peninsula to a spot known as Hot Water Beach. Again, this location has a name that pretty much spells out what you're going to find when you arrive. The beach has a couple of hot springs that run underneath the sand and out to sea. Visitors dig holes into the sand and sit in the do-it-yourself spa baths.
We rented a spade from a nearby shop and trudged down to the rocky part of the beach where the springs are located. It's easy to find as there are dozens of other tourists busy digging their way into the sand all around the area
Several more attempts (and some burnt feet) and Andrew gave up the digging thing and decided to lie on the hot sand and let the cold waves wash over him - the perfect compromise! Though on some occasions the water coming from the spring got a little too hot! (PIC)
Leaving Hot Water Beach we headed to New Zealand's capital city, Auckland - the city of sails.