Whakaari/White Island is New Zealand's only active marine volcano. It is situated 48 kilometres from the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty. The nearest mainland towns are Whakatane and Tauranga. The island is roughly circular, about 2km in diameter. White Island is approx. 100,000 to 200,000 years old. Approx. two thirds of the island is below sea level. There are three distinct craters, only one of which is active and most visible. The other two are extinct.
The full Maori name for the island is 'Te Puia o Whakaari' meaning literally: 'The Dramatic Volcano.' Captain Cook named it White Island in 1769 as he saw a large white cloud, not realising that it was steam derived from volcanic activity.
An attempt was made in the early 1900s to mine sulphur from Whakaari but it was abandoned. The remains of the buildings can still be seen, much corroded by the sulphuric gasses.
The volcanic activity is constantly monitored by volcanologists from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences. Survey pegs, magnetometers and seismographic equipment for early earthquake warnings via radio have been installed on the crater walls and also visual surveillance cameras. Visitors have been known to place small objects in front of the crater web-cam. A small, pink toy dinosaur has been the star recently. Hourly updates can be seen on two different GeoNet web-cams.
The sulphur fumes and acidic environment ensures that there is very little vegetation. Eruptions between 1981-83 altered much of the island’s landscape and decimated the extensive pohutukawa forest on the outside of the main crater wall. The crater that formed then has now filled to became a lake. Now it is not so active it is possible to get up close to yellow and white sulphur crystal formations and bubbling fumaroles capped with steam.
Whakaari is easily accessible through the authorized tourist operators. As it is a private scenic reserve, visitors can land only with permission and must not disturb or remove anything.
- PeeJays White Island Tours, White Island Rendezvous, 15 The Strand East, Whakatane, phone number +64 7 308 9588 (email firstname.lastname@example.org, fax +64 7 308 0303, freephone 0800 PeeJay (733 529) within NZ), . Seven days a week, weather permitting. The trip to the island takes about 80 minutes. Inflatables are used to ferry visitors to the jetty. The guided tour on the island is 1 and a half to 2 hours. Allow 5 - 6 hours for the round trip. Refreshments and lunch are included. The price per person is $175.00. From 21 January to 19 December children 13 years and under are $120.00 and babies under 1 year are free of charge.
- Vulcan Helicopters, PO Box 10, Waimana, Whakatane, phone +64 7 308 4188 (email email@example.com, freephone 0800 804 354 within NZ), . Helicopter trips departing from Whakatane Airport are available 7 days a week and are weather dependent. Departure times are normally 10AM or 12:30PM but are flexible. Trip time is around 2 and a half hours, just over 1 hour on the island. $435 per person.
On foot. Wear suitable footwear. No sandals or jandals. Bring something warm and something waterproof.
- The ruins of the sulphur factory. They are scattered throughout the crater, and some are accessible enough for you to walk into. Most are accompained by grizzly stories of how their inhabitants died from poisoning or avalanches.
- The crater pool. A lake of brilliantly green, hot, steaming sulphuric acid. Don't get too close to the edge!
- Sulphur encrusted fumeroles. As the sulphur comes out of the ground, it forms striking yellow towers, many of which are still active and billow with sulphuric fumes.
Remember this is an active volcano. Aside from toxic fumes there are also hot gases and corrosive chemicals present. The tour operators will have checked the activity alert level but if you are concerned, consult the experienced guide. Do not go anywhere on the island without your activity and movements being monitored by them. First aid and safety equipment is provided.