"White Island volcano trip" Whakatane Travelogue by Kate-Me

Whakatane Travel Guide: 13 reviews and 53 photos

Boat trip to White Island with Pee Jays adventures

White Island is a large submarine volcano 150,000 – 200,000 years old, NZ’s most active volcano.
Located: 49 km north of Whakatane, in the Bay of Plenty. The volcano’s height reaches 321 metres above sea level, but its full height from the sea floor is about twice that. Only a small % of the island is above the sea. The underwater base of the volcano is 16 km x 18 km, but only about 2.4 x 2 km is visible.
Sulphur used to be mined commercially on the island, but eruptions and part of the crater wall collapsing resulted in several deaths (at least 10 miners working on the island in 1914) and led to mining ceasing in 1933. I believe the last time it erupted was 1998. More scientific info: http://www.gns.cri.nz/what/earthact/volcanoes/nzvolcanoes/newwhitei.html

The island has been left to nature since then, and is actually privately owned by the Buttle family – who agreed the island could become a private scenic reserve (with a part of each visitor’s tour cost going to them as a fee – I believe it’s quite a lot in fact)
Our tour was $175 ea for the 6 hours – my husband considers it worth it.

Those who suffer seasickness beware though!
Tour begins at White Island Rendezvous (their hotel/base/giftshop etc)

The island takes about 2 hours to get reach (cruising at 19 knots) but for me it felt like forever (since I was thoroughly seasick) and I would have said it was more like 100 kms than 50 ....on and on you go.
On the way you pass Whale Island (remains of a dormant volcano 7 kms offshore).

Finally we arrive at the island and get into a motorised inflatable launch for the transfer to what’s left of the jetty, and disembark onto some easy to clamber over rocks.

Sometimes they see dolphins & whales but we saw neither, though did spot 2 large seals on rocks as we were circumnavigating White Island .

We spent 2 hours exploration of the island, literally following in the footsteps of the guides. Our group of about 60 was split into 3, each with 2 guides, and off we went.

You wear a safety helmet and carry a gas mask around your neck (in case you are walking through vent fumes and might have trouble breathing – depends which way the wind is blowing – this wasn’t much of an issue for us)
There’s no wandering off. Safety is strictly observed….a freak eruption COULD happen – we are warned of this and told what to do if there’s a collapse or avalanche, but keeping our distance as we did from actual fumaroles (vents of quick, powerful hissing, escaping steam/smoke) I didn’t ever feel ‘unsafe’. The guide also makes you avoid walking anywhere where they know the crust is brittle and there’s a risk of falling through or sinking (a couple of people on our tour walked maybe 1 mt off course and sank almost up to the top of their shoes in grey, gooey mud…fortunately the guide picked up on this quick enough to stop the rest of us following in those footsteps and also sinking.
It really does feel like you’re walking on the moon…..a dead landscape (at least on the side of the island where you land and walk) – nothing alive, walking on loose ash and rock - nothing alive but the fumaroles, bubbling lake, and tiny rivulet creeks of water (no doubt mixed with a dose of sulphur too). The smell of sulphur/eggs is quite bad, but no worse than at Rotorua, and you soon get caught up in following the guides and listening to their informative commentary about the geology and also the history of the island.

The scenes are colourful – the different tones of sulphur and mud, the white water in the little rivulets, the green bubbling lake…. it’s not just grey ash at all.

-to-date images of the island (from its web cams) can be viewed hourly at www.geonet.org.nz

After we got back on board, while waiting for the other 2 tour groups from our boat to be ferried back via the launch, a packed lunch began to be served. And what was on the menu for lunch? None other than egg sandwiches! I tell you, after being sick for 2 hours and then walking around 2 hours on a fascinating island which however smells of rotten eggs, the last thing you want to eat is egg sandwiches! (Never mind, all part of the adventure, I guess).

On the way back to Whakatane, we did a complete circumnavigation of the island....to see vegetation and grass and nesting birds on the other side was amazing! Completely different to the side where we landed, and no sign of bubbling mud or fumarolles here at all!

  • Page Updated Nov 18, 2010
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