Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Our smokin' hot day on White Island

Good morning from rainy Auckland! To end our little Whakatane series, I'd like to show you all some shots from one of the cooler places we've ever seen -- White Island. This was the other reason, in addition to Trey's fishing trip, that we wanted to go to this area. White Island is a 200,000 year old active marine volcano, about 30 miles off the coast in the deep blue Pacific Ocean. Early on we read about this and thought holy cow, when do we ever get to walk around in gas masks on a live marine volcano again? Let's go! And along with 40 others we boarded the one boat that goes there (you can also take a helicopter) and sailed east for an hour and a half.

We truly had been excited about doing this for a long while, but we only learned few days beforehand that we might see some whales. They'd been spotted in Auckland in and around the harbour and we knew they were on the move. We didn't want to get our hopes up too high, but we were really, really hoping we'd see some! We don't see a lot of whales in Ohio...

An hour or so into the trip, the captain directed us to the side of the boat where we could see pilot whales and dolphins, which apparently are hunting buddies and hang out together. They were amazing to see! A big group of them all swimming like crazy right next to us. Very, very exciting.

Once we got to the island, small groups were shuttled to shore in an inflatable and then we headed off with the guides.

I've already proclaimed my love for volcanic landscapes, but this was even beyond what we've seen so far. The hot streams, bubbling mud pots, steaming fumaroles, and violently roaring vents were seriously volcanic. No mistaking this place for anything else. Everything looked and smelled and sounded toxic. We really did need the gas masks, as the sulfurous fumes at times caught in our throats making us gag and blinding us. The guides had provided hard candies to suck on to keep our throats clear as well. I will include a small video of one of the vents that Dennis took with his iPhone. I hope that you can hear it well enough.

Like everything else we've done here, we were up close and personal with no railings or ropes to keep us away from potential lawsuit-inducing behavior. If we were stupid enough to fall into the gaping green lake-filled crater, then tough luck for us. We did have to sign something (even the kids) before we left which basically said that this was dangerous, the volcano could erupt at any time, and that we would be hard pressed to win fifty cents from a New Zealand company if we were foreigners. Of course then they let us drink the sulfuric acid laden water from a hot stream and encouraged us to taste the sulfur crystals.

Most of the people were foreigners, by the way, as long as we're talking about that. We heard some Italian and some American and Australian accents, but a few people were there from New Zealand, including one much older man who'd driven down by himself from Tauranga to fulfill his dream of seeing White Island. He figured it was now or never as he didn't seem to think he had a lot of time left. He kept up very well with everyone with the help of his cane and seemed to be very glad he'd made the trip.

For a while there was a sulfur mining company on the island until it erupted and everything and all the people were destroyed. The ruins of the factory are a bit creepy.

After a few hours of this unsettlingly warm smelly moonscape, we boarded our boat to head back. They served us the funniest little lunch. That's a hash brown under the tiny quiche and just so you can really imagine the experience, the asparagus wrapped in bread was cooked and very mushy and cold. Of course, I am not complaining -- I ate it all and it was good. It was just weird.

We were pretty happy with the day at this point. We'd seen crazy cool stuff that most likely we'll never have a chance to see again and then of course the pilot whales and dolphins. And then the coolest thing happened -- the captain again got very excited and directed us all to see something even more magical. Orca whales. A stunning experience. People had tears in their eyes. We all applauded.

If I were to get to choose my Groundhog Day, this would most definitely be in my top three.

Eventually the boat made its way back into the sweet little harbour and we watched the fishing boats all unloading their catches and the locals catching their dinners.

No sooner had the fish been unloaded and filleted than the courier was there to pick it up and whisk it off to Rotorua for that night's specials. Fresh seafood indeed! The bait and tackle shop owner oversaw much of this activity.

We sure are having fun here. And meeting such interesting people. And now I am off for a walk as it's low tide and I think I can get around from the little cove off of Clouston St. to Peacock St. beach without getting too wet. Then the walk up the hill from Peacock will nearly kill me so I'll have to reward myself with some cookies. Adios, my friends! Love to you all! K.


  1. I think they shot the original Planet of the Apes at the ruins of the mining company, didn't they?

  2. So D was doing that whole "put the masks of children on first and then assist yourself" thing?

  3. Happy to see you all had such a magical day! The sulfur thing is weird, don't know that I would go for that.

    Love the weird lunch! It's almost like a deluxe airline lunch but better and way more food. But remember from like 25 years ago the meals that airlines served? I remember I got a Kosher meal one time and it was good! We've never kept Kosher, but it was supposed to be better and I recall being full. I was young then and ate less too!

    So many marine mammals in one day! Strange that whales are mammals... Good night!