When I was travelling around New Zealand I just knew I had to visit White Island, which is an active volcanic island about 48 kilometres off the coast of the North Island.
I took a tour from Whakatane and the boat trip out to the island was roughly 1.5 hours long. But it felt so much longer. The whole trip was rough and windy, the boat constantly kept rocking from side to side. I luckily didn’t get sick, even though I tend to get seasick, but my stomach had definitely seen better days. And of course it doesn’t help when many of the passengers around you throw up. But I found a couple of people to talk to and so I kept my mind of my turning stomach. The afternoon tour was later cancelled due to the bad conditions at sea, so I was very happy to have gone with the morning tour – I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.
White Island, or Whakaari as the Maori call it, is about 2 kilometres in diameter and is estimated to be between 150,000 and 200,000 years old. As mentioned, it’s still an active volcano, so we got both a hard hat to wear in case of rocks shooting out of the crater, as well as a gas mask in case the sulphur fumes got too much.
It was incredible to walk on the volcano, knowing that today it’s safe to walk there, but that it potentially could erupt at any moment. The place was just so different from anything I’ve ever seen before. Due to the harsh environment there’s no vegetation on the island and the only colours you see are the yellow and white sulphur crystals which grow around the place.
Sulphur mining was attempted on the island several times, but even I would have thought better than to do that on an active volcano. It was stopped in 1914 after a lahar (volcanic mudflow) wiped out all the buildings and killed the 10 men who were living there. Now you can only see the leftovers from the buildings and the machinery.
In the evening I got back to the hostel where I saw a picture of White Island taken from the sky. It looked absolutely amazing and I almost couldn’t believe that just a few hours before I was waking on that very island.
To this day I still cannot quite believe it. I often sit looking at my pictures trying to remember the day and it’s without a doubt one of my favourite experiences in New Zealand.