The closet we'll ever get to the moon

Trip Start Nov 09, 2012
Trip End Mar 04, 2013

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, February 11, 2013

After leaving Auckland, we drove 5.5 hours to The Bay of Plenty on the east side of the island - and to a place called Ohope Beach, a small town a 10 minute drive from Whakatene (pronounced Fakatayknee)... 

On the way we stopped off at a mining town to look at an active mine and historical artefacts from 100 years ago when mining first started in the area and we passed through some very old towns which reminded us of USA hillbilly towns where strangers aren't welcome...

We arrived at Ohope Beach in the early evening and decided against parking on the beach after our incidents with Sandflies, which were active in the area and decided instead to be near the amenities.  Just a short stroll from the camper was the beach and the Pacific Ocean and some black sand, which unlike golden sand, is more silica and sticks to you feet.  We booked our tour for the following day before driving into Whakatane for some take-out pizza...

The next day we drove back into Whakatane for our tour to Whakaari - or White Island, which is an active volcano, 50km from Whakatane - and NZ's most active cone volcano.  The island is about 2km in diameter and about 300 feet above sea level - but actually the peak is the top of a massive, 1600 meter submarine mountain, the largest volcanic structure in NZ...

The last eruption on the volcano was in 2000 where magma crept up high enough to make the rocks on the surface glow red but there wasn't a big eruption - and the island experiences several tremors each day - most of which go unnoticed by the people visiting the island.  What people do notice however is the sulphur smell which is very strong - and luckily, we were given gas masks to wear as the air was quite acidic in places and could give sore throats - so we wore them when it got particularly bad!  Until 1914 people used to live on the island for 3 month stints to mine the sulphur - being it good for medicinal purposes - but after a rock slide killed 10 workers and because of the high operating costs, the mine was abandoned.

Being on the island was like being on the moon, with smoke coming out of craters, strange yellow, green and red colourings on the rocks both on the floor and on the sides of the craters, strange smells, hot streamy streams running across the rock, and areas of rock where if you stood on it, could collapse and send you downwards into very hot water.

Getting to the island was by boat, and took about 90 minutes, and on the way out, was mostly in silence due to having an argument before we boarded - a time for quiet contemplation before we made friends again...  The views were lovely, gorgeous blue skies and a lovely calm sea.  When we moored off of the island, we were transported by dingies to the island itself.

On the way back we spotted a pod of common dolphins and cut the engines to float along as the dolphins swam beside and underneath the boat, jumping out of the water and playing with each other - it was a fantastic sight - such magnificent creatures and a treat to see them in their natural envionrment.

Upon return from the tour, we headed back to Ohope for a game of mini golf which I won (hurrah!) and a shower to get the eggy smell off before ironically, having egg sandwiches for tea (made sense at the time).  The showers at the campsite were... frustrating - they worked on a timer system where you had to switch the shower to hot, then go outside the shower cubicle to press a button - where a minute later you'd have 5 minutes of hot water and not a moment more.  This equated to two showers, which no matter how fast I went, went cold.  We decided to move the next day (today) and move further down the Bay of Plenty to Rotorua, the home of more sulphur - geothermal pools, geysers and lots of Maori tradition.

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