Whakatane is famous for its White Island tours – a trip out on a boat to see NZ’s only active marine volcano. An old sulphur mine sits on the volcano used up until the 30s where workers would move to this harsh environment for 3 months at a time (the longest stayed for 8 years).
I was so excited about this trip it’s not every day you get to go inside a volcanic crater and as a keen geographer I was in geek mode bad style. We went with a tour company called White Island Tours and it was $200 each for the trip, so it isn’t cheap but it is 100% worth it. I guess with all the permits and insurance the company must be required to have to take tourists onto a live volcano, would set them back a bit. The boat was lovely and spacious with lovely soft sofa seats downstairs, the journey out to the island is 80 minutes so we opted for an inside seat.
To actually get onto the volcano we had to get a rib boat across, climb some metal ladders and then clamber across some boulders to get ashore (I felt like Lara Croft). The volcano was breath-taking, it was a harsh landscape, emitting steam everywhere and bright yellow sulphur chimneys steaming from the ground. We had stepped directly into the crater! The gases being produced weren’t harmful but they made you cough really badly so we had to wear gas masks – teamed with our hard hats we looked pretty snazzy (think Heisenberg from Breaking Bad). Chris found his Darth Vader impression pretty hilarious as we were walking around.
We got to walk right up to the main crater, which had a bright green bubbling volcanic lake inside with a huge plum of steam from the main vent. It was amazing. There were bubbling pools of mud around us and volcanic streams which were really hot running across the landscape. It was a very special trip for me as since uni I have always been fascinated by volcanoes.
We went into the old abandoned sulphur factory which had an eerie feel to it, a lot of the machinery was still there and all badly corroded due to the gases. The guide told us that their t-shirts only last 6 months due to the gases disintegrating the cotton stitching. It must have been such a strange place to be for long periods at a time for the sulphur miners.
I really can’t stress how much I enjoyed this trip and I would recommend to anyone who was a little dubious about spending the money on a trip.
Once back on the boat we were provided with a lovely lunch (cheese sandwiches, cake, oat bar, apple and a crunchy!) and then made the 1.5 hour journey back. We both fell asleep Chris the nodding dog and me with my mouth wide open!
Our Waitangi weekend at Coromandel and White Island is something we will never forget and it probably tuned out to be one of my favourite weekends we have had so far.