White Island

Today I set off on a full day trip to White Island, New Zealand’s only marine volcano. Getting there involves a shuttle bus out to Whakatane, followed by a 2 hour boat trip out at sea. I sit outside on the back of the boat for most of the trip, but as the sea gets rougher as we get further from the coast, the outside of the boat becomes a dumping ground for all the water flying over the top! Feeling a little damp I move inside.

Approaching the island I’m struck by how volcanic looking it is. It has the classic volcano characteristic of smoke coming out of it’s cone – though I learn later that it’s actually only steam. It’s rather a rough landing onto the island by tender boat, with a lot of shouting to get off the boat quickly! It’s good to be on stable ground, though the ground here probably isn’t as stable as the mainland.

We start our walk with a brief saftey talk, mainly about keeping our hard hats on, and on how to use the gas masks which are essential equipment for anyone visiting the island. The gas masks are to be used on an as required basis, as the sulpher in the air can make it difficult to breathe. If the volcano erupts we are to take cover as best we can behind a rock and not run for the boat, as the boat will leave us behind and go out to sea until it’s safe to return.

We start our tour heading up towards the crator, passed fumeroles and barren landscapes. Our guide hands out sweets to suck, the purpose of them being to lubricate our throats so that the sulpher doesn’t make us cough as much. It doesn’t really work, and I find myself using the gas mask quite a bit, though the guides don’t seem to use theirs at all.

We reach the rim of the crator. All we can see is a mass of steam coming from the crator lake, obliterating any view of the lake itself. A small green pool to the side of the main lake is dark green in colour, displaying the vivid colour which the crator lake would have.

Moving on, we hear about the sulpher factory that used to operate on the island. The first was destroyed by a landslide in the middle of the night killing all the workers who lived there. The second still remains, though in ruins. The workers for this factory lived further round the island out of the danger zone, and the torturous track they had to walk to get to work when the sea was too rough is still visible.

On route to the factory we are invited to try some White Island Spring water. At a pleasant 38C it would be a nice temperature for a bath, but it tastes pretty disgusting! After we have all tried it, they then procede to tell us that there are among other things, small quantities of Arsenic in the water!

We reach the factory and explore the ruins, badly rusted machinery and strangely preserved wood. Nothing lasts long in this environment – the workers used to wear woolen clothes as wool was the clothing that lasted the longest.

We return to the boat, and have a quick cruise round the side of the island, admiring the fur seals and line of vegetation which suddenly springs up just outside the crator. Pack lunches are handed out and the return journey begins.

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