WALK IN THE CRATER OF NEW ZEALAND’S MOST ACTIVE VOLCANO
WHITE ISLAND VOLCANIC TOURS
pared to an airplane taking off. I now know why people love to do this – the feeling of smoothly ascending while the beautiful vista unfolded below was incredible. The visibility was excellent as most of the cockpit is a perspex bubble, and I took the opportunity to take some aerial photos of the Bay of Plenty coastline; stunning beaches and pristine blue water. The flight took 30 minutes but seemed more like ten as I tried to take everything in. Dave knows the area well having worked with Aerius Helicopters for seven years and was able to point out various beaches and islands of interest. His well-trained eye also spotted a pod of dolphins. Soon we were approaching White Island, and the view was breathtaking; shrouded in a cloud of steam there was an aura of magic about the volcano. No better way to have a first encounter with such an ancient and powerful beast than from the air. As Dave flew us directly over the crater, he casually announced that was where we would be “landing in a few minutes”. I was blown away when my friends quickly confirmed that we were going to get to walk in the crater of the volcano!
"NOTHING CAN PREPARE YOU FOR THE UNSHAKEABLE FEELING THAT YOU HAVE STEPPED THROUGH A PORTAL IN TIME AND HAVE BEEN TRANSPORTED BACK TO PRIMORDIAL TIMES WHEN THE PLANET WAS STILL FORMING
Dave expertly and gently touched the helicopter down in the crater. We were soon all standing and looking around in awe at the crazy moonscape surrounding us; steam rose from fumaroles (vents in the crater), and the smell of sulphur reigned supreme. Nothing can prepare you for the unshakeable feeling that you have stepped through a portal in time and have been transported back to primordial times when the planet was still forming. Mud bubbled and gurgled, and hot streams flowed and there was a constant roar of volcanic activity; I couldn’t help but keep glancing up skywards expecting to see a jumbo jet. Dave assured me that he still checks for jet planes when he hears the roar although he has visited White Island numerous times.
We set off on an hour’s walk that was not demanding and definitely worth it. We ascended the crater and were rewarded with an amazing view of the crater lake – a steaming, bright green body of water. Dave told us that the vivid hue of the lake is due to the presence of sulphur and micro-organisms. Parts of the surface of the crater were a bright yellow. It was strange to see the landscape so influenced by the presence of sulphur.
Dave kept us informed about our surroundings with his interesting and knowledgeable snippets, but did not overwhelm us with facts and pointed out the best places to take photos. It was appreciated that we could soak up the atmosphere in peace and take the time to capture the moment on film. As we approached the remnants of a sulphur mining operation, Dave told of the hardy folk who lived and worked on the island in the early 20th century, processing
the sulphur for various products including fertilizer. Ten workers perished in a lahar (or mudslide) caused by the partial collapse of the crater in 1914. It was eerie walking amongst the abandoned machinery – huge corroded cogs frozen in time. Production continued off and on over the years until the 1930s when the island was bought by George Buttle. Today the island is part of the Buttle Family Trust, and its pristine condition is due to having been declared a Private Scenic Reserve. Access is only granted through designated tour operators who ensure that visitors leave nothing and remove nothing from the island. Our tour reached its conclusion as we wended our way back to the helicopter. It was sad to think the walking tour was over, but a bonus that I could still enjoy another ride. As we rose up over the steaming island, I was once again spellbound by its wild, ancient beauty. Watching as the island receded into the distance I felt a great sense of satisfaction in having had such a unique experience. By far, the most remarkable birthday gift I have ever received and an experience that will I relive time and again in my daydreams.
The remnants of a sulphur mining operation