WALK IN THE CRATER OF NEW ZEALAND’S MOST AC­TIVE VOL­CANO

WHITE IS­LAND VOL­CANIC TOURS

Go Travel New Zealand - - Bay Of Plenty -

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

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