Perhaps there is a clause in microscopic sized lettering at the bottom of every travel insurance document which invalidates it whenever you enter the air space of New Zealand in the assumption that the majority of people who come here will do something which has an element of danger – is there something in the air? It is after all the home of bungy jumping and a myriad of other gravity and nerve defying outdoor pursuits in some pretty rigid countryside. I may not have thrown myself off a bridge or a plane but I have done some things which may have pushed that some may argue are on the boundary of danger: kayaked to the Tasmin Sea on Milford Sound, driven up the West Coast, stayed in Wairoa, driven the Pacific Coast Highway and stopped en route, freedom camped. Tomorrow’s trip does come into the ‘edge of danger’ and ‘slightly mad’ category in anyone’s books – walking into the crater of an active volcano amongst roaring fumaroles, glittering crystals, bubbling pits of mud (oh no, not more bubbling mud!) and hot thermal streams. From the large and expensive boats the company I am going with operates this is clearly a popular trip and that they do have a more ‘formal’ approach to safety. Their advert does say that all safety equipment including oxygen masks are included – and lunch. I have been waiting two days for the trip to run due to high swells and gale force winds making leaving the safe harbour of Whakatane and it’s infamous sand bar too difficult and landing on White Island itself impossible. Not least of all a rather uncomfortable ride for those on board. However, tomorrow is looking much calmer so we are good to go! White Island here I come.
Known by the local Maori peoples as Te Puia O Whakaari (Dramatic Volcano) and named by Captain Cook as White Island (he did not realise it was a volcano, just an island with its head in a cloud) has been documented as smoking since 1769 and must have been doing so long before that as its been building for the past 15,000 years. It is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano and is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone which I have been driving through. The volcano is a classic conical shape with only 300m of it’s 1600m showing above the waters of the the Bay of Plenty just 48km off shore. Its last major eruptions which decimated the pohutukawa forrest and changed the landscape were in the early 80’s although there have been many minor eruptions since then. The easy accessibility of this active volcano ensures that there is a steady stream of volcanologists monitoring it’s every tremble, bubble and puff of steam. Of course this ease of accessibility also means that those who have a desire to see the Earth’s innards at close range can visit too – weather permitting!
Those who know me will testify that boats are not my favourite mode of transport but in this case a necessary evil to get to this unique island. Hopefully I will not need the sea sickness pills – I survived a recent fishing trip on Lake Taupo and a very rough whale watching trip off Icelancd so perhaps the desire to get there will be the cure in itself?