The tiny island of Te Puia o Whakaari (the dramatic volcano), located about thirty miles off the coast of New Zealand is the country’s only active marine volcano. Better known to tourists as White Island, the name Captain Cook gave it in 1769 after seeing it covered in white steam, it was originally formed from three separate volcanic cones. The older ones have long since been eroded leaving the youngest cone to rise to centre stage from the sea floor.
Exploring the White Island Volcano in New Zealand
Take an organised tour
Access to the privately-owned island is only possible via an organised tour. Helicopters leave from Rotorua, Tauranga and Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty. Boat trips leave daily from Whakatane so long as the sea is calm enough.
A comfortable cruiser takes guests out to the island who, kitted out in hard hats, disembark into a smaller vessel to ferry everyone to shore. From there, after a safety briefing, the guide leads the group across a lunar landscape to get a closer look at one of nature’s great spectacles.
A treat for all the senses
But visiting the White Island volcano in New Zealand isn’t just a visual experience. The volcano’s mud pools burp and gurgle, while its vents and fumaroles hiss like a bunch of geriatric cats. The eggy smell is even more memorable. Those with sensitive nostrils will be grateful for the gas masks supplied when the smell is akin to the worst possible stink bomb the class clown could ever have let off. Unfortunately, that won’t stop your eyes stinging, but a little discomfort is a small price to pay to get up close to such an amazing sight.
White Island volcano in New Zealand is active
The White Island volcano in New Zealand is a dynamic landscape. Eruptions in the early Eighties reshaped the land and smothered much of the forest that had grown up. The last significant eruption was in 2000, but there have been signs of continuing activity since 2012. If you’re planning a visit but don’t want to risk getting caught up in an eruption, you can track the volcano’s activity levels here.
Remains of human activity
Today, White Island is uninhabited, save for the colonies of gannets and oi (mutton birds) which are better suited to cope with the acrid atmosphere than humans. Back in the late 19th Century, attempts were made to establish a sulphur-mining factory there. It was a dismal failure, culminating in a blast from the volcano which triggered a lahar that destroyed the factory in 1914 and killed ten employees. Despite this, attempts were made a decade or so later to mine sulphur again, but by the 1930s it was economically unviable and the buildings were left. Now, corroded by the sulphur-rich gases, they make for an interesting visit.