The Mad Smiths Visit Active Volcanic Island…

On Friday 10th January 2014 we booked a trip to ‘White Island’, NZ’s most active volcano. We drove the hour and a half south from Tauranga to Whakatane where we were picking up the boat for a further hour and a half’s trip to the island. As we checked in we were given notes to read about all the dangers and risks we were taking visiting an active volcano – and a disclaimer to sign …

White Island is the top 30% of a large submarine volcano. Its highest peak is 320 metres and it measures 2.4km by 2km. Amazingly enough, people have attempted to live on the island over the years! From the late 19th century sulphur was mined here, even though it was of poor quality. However, in 1914 a lahar (volcanic mud flow) destroyed the first factory and all the workers were killed. Mining ceased in 1933.

As we approached today we saw steam rising – though much less than normal, our guide told us. We donned hard hats and were given gas masks (!) before we disembarked from the boat into dinghies and were ferried across the last few metres to the island. Our guide warned us to follow him and keep to the paths: avoid the dome-shaped blisters which would crack like a biscuit if you stood on them and send you into boiling mud! We did as we were told…

The volcanic activity is usually limited to steaming fumaroles and boiling mud, he continued, but everything is very carefully monitored by surveillance cameras, and if there is going to be an eruption there will be a dramatic increase in temperature and we’ll be told to evacuate. How long a warning do we get, someone asked. Oh, about 15 minutes, he replied!

Our guided walk lasted an hour or so and we marvelled at fumaroles, sulphur chimneys and mud pots and the large lake in the crater which was formed after a major eruption in the 80s. When was the last eruption, we asked. Just a couple of months ago, we were told….

On the outward journey a large pod of dolphins had followed our boat and we were treated to a spectacular display of their leaping and diving. Now, as we were leaving White Island, we witnessed an array of flying fish! – seeing these things sprouting ‘wings’ and darting across the surface of the water for a hundred metres or more looked like something from a sci fi movie! As the Kiwis would say, it was an ‘awesome’ day out.


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