Richard Moore: Explore local treasure

By Richard Moore

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A visit to White Island is an out of world experience. Photo / Moore Media Services
A visit to White Island is an out of world experience. Photo / Moore Media Services

Hands up if you have been out to White Island?

If you have, then you will know what an astounding adventure is sitting there on our doorstep.

If you haven't then you are missing out on an extraordinary trip out to New Zealand's only marine volcano.

And, trust me, your friends will be ever so jealous - and not a little in awe - when you tell them that you have walked around inside the crater of an active volcano.

It is not only exciting, but parts of White Island will give you a glimpse into what walking on a lunar landscape would look like.

A few weeks ago the White Island Tours operation was hit by disaster when its main boat, the PeeJay V, caught fire and sank a kilometre off the Whakatane bar.

Fortunately the crew and passengers escaped and were picked up by rescue craft.

Since then the visits to the volcanic island have continued on the PeeJay IV, when weather conditions have been right, and the patronage has been excellent.

This is great for not only Whakatane, where the boats are based, but for the Bay of Plenty, in general, because it is one of our best tourist attractions.

The recent large swells powering in from the north delayed our venture for a couple of weeks but, last Friday, the weather gods smiled and we set off on a stunning afternoon cruise.

Blue skies, blue waters and a flattish sea made it a pleasant trip out, although on the horizon the island was sending up a large mushroom-shaped cloud of steam.

Was she angry? Would she blow her top at us?

I've seen her vent steam while walking on Papamoa Beach and got an even closer view from Tirohanga near Opotiki, but never as close as I was about to get.

Funnily enough that didn't bother me.

I had confidence in the professionals running the operation.

When you get to White Island you take a small inflatable to what could be called a jetty. Before you disembark you are given a hard hat and gas mask. The former in case there is an explosion that could biff rocks about, the latter to save your throat from the irritating effects of sulphurous gases you will be approaching.

From the inflatable you need to climb up rusty, but solid, ladders to an ancient jetty, then cross a metal plank to the rocks you need to clamber over to reach the beach.

If you doubt the solidity of the ladders don't worry.

They took my 110kg frame and a 10kg camera bag without the slightest movement.

Once on the beach we got our safety instructions and then we were off on a fascinating journey.

Along the way our guides (one in front, one at the rear) would talk about key aspects of White Island.

The island is astounding.

There are bright yellow and orange blooms of sulphur crystals, gurgling fumeroles, huge clouds of egg-pongy steam and wonderful colours and shapes of the moon-like landscape.

There are pinks and browns and greys, yellows, reds, oranges and all stand out vibrantly.

One of the eye-catching sights is a double gap of land that allows you to see the dark blue of the sea against the sky.

Incredible, you think, until you realise the gaps used to be the walls of the island's crater that were blown out by a massive explosion.

Where are the guides? And is my yellow helmet on securely enough?

Honestly, the last thing you worry about on the island is an event, you are just so entranced by the occasion.

But that doesn't mean you are silly.

You must keep close together and listen to the advice the guides are giving.

If something happens, they know what to do.

The sight of a steaming, bubbling crater lake is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and tasting volcanic stream water - twice - is interesting, if not exactly the nicest drop you'll ever try. But, hey, you have to do it.

And that's what I suggest about getting out to White island.

It is a local treasure that needs to be enjoyed and shared.

- Richard@richardmoore.com

- Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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