People talk of White Island as if it were one volcano. In actual fact, it is made up of three volcanic cones. Estimated to be between 150,000 to 200,000 years old. It was named White Island by Captain Cook, the first European to sight the island. This was in 1769 and as he noted in the Endeavour’s log book, “We called it White for as such it always appear’d to us”. Cook, however, did not come close enough to realise it was a volcano.
Situated 48 kilometres (30 miles) offshore in the Bay of Plenty region, White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcanic site. It is New Zealand’s only live marine volcano and is shaped like a horseshoe.
The crater of the youngest cone is where most of the action happens. Hot water, steam and toxic gases escape from vents; temperatures of up to 800°C have been recorded, and the floor of the crater is covered with fine ash. White Island currently sits on an alert level rating of 1, meaning she is always active, constantly steaming. The Maori name for the island is ‘Te Puia o Whakaari‘, which means ‘the dramatic volcano’.
In the past the island was mined for sulphur. Today it is a private scenic reserve. Guided tours of the island can be arranged from Whakatane, Rotorua and Tauranga. Diving and snorkelling around the island are also possible. Helicopters can land on the island and launches can anchor depending on the weather.
Scenic cruising (cruise by) – The best viewing is from the south east corner, where there is an unobstructed view into the crater vent.
Tender options for cruise ships – Firstly, White Island is privately owned and hence will require landing permits. One beach landing & one semi jetty landing are available. Both require prior arrangement.
Contact your shipping agent for more information.
White Island is accessible by boat and helicopter, and visitors to the island can walk right inside its main crater just above sea level with a minimum of physical effort and without undue risk. The surroundings are quite surreal and the scenery spectacular. It is like walking on an active volcanic moonscape with no plants or vegetation inside the crater. The smell of sulphur and the noise of steam emanating from the many fumaroles both large and small make for an amazing sensory experience.
The trip to and from the island is also memorable. By boat you are surrounded by sea and bird life where dolphins often swim alongside the boat and large colonies of the majestic gannet reside by the outer slopes of White Island. The gannets nest and rear their young on the island and the noise of these “rookeries” takes your attention as you approach the island and their presence is clearly marked like snow on points above the cliff-lined shores. And by helicopter, you get to see the full grandeur of White Island rising out of the South Pacific Ocean.
The island is closely monitored by New Zealand scientists, but there are hazards with visiting a live active volcano. Licensed operators have safety protocol that visitors need to adhere to, and will provide hard hats and masks.
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