Sunday 20 March 2011
Last weekend we had the annual Mozilla Auckland outdoor activity. No-one else volunteered to organise it so once again I had us visit a volcano :-). This time, it was White Island in the Bay of Plenty.
We drove down to Whakatane on Friday night and stayed at the White Island Rendezvous Motel, which also runs the guided tour boat trip out to the island. We went out to the island on Saturday morning. Small boats weren't leaving the harbour due to tsunami fears, but our boat was cleared to leave. The boat took an hour and a half to get out to the island, then we had about two hours walking on the island, after which we had lunch on board, circumnavigated the island and returned to Whakatane. The weather was fantastic for the whole trip --- sunny, warm, a slight swell on the bow on the way out but nothing to speak of on the way back.
The island is amazing. It's basically just a large crater with a high rim to the west, north and east. Inside the rim is an astonishing, completely barren landscape. The crater walls are bare rock, much of it loose, heavily eroded by rainfall. The floor is rocks, ash, and mineral formations, plus some fumaroles, boiling water and mud, and the crater lake itself. The lake is amazing: quite large, constantly roiling, hot (currently around 67 degrees C, 152 F), and with a pH of -0.4, considerably stronger than battery acid. The fumaroles and the lake itself constantly belch a mix of steam and sulphuric fumes. The steam plume is huge, constantly visible from Whakatane in clear weather. The fumes shift around in the wind; when they blow your way, you start coughing and spluttering --- fortunately the tour company provides masks with fliters. The place is both hellish and totally fascinating, and beautiful in its own way. (Odd that we would consider something attractive that's so inimical to life!)
The crater area contains the remains of sulphur mining operations. They're a lovely example of industrial ruins, and look older than they actually are due to the spectacularly corrosive environment.
As a nice bonus, we encountered dolphins on the way to the island and on the way back, and a seal too! On the return trip there must have been hundreds of dolphins in the group; for a while, wherever you looked you could see dolphins leaping out of the water at every moment. They loved playing in the wake of the boat, and the boat's skipper was adept at encouraging them. Seeing those magnificent animals just having fun was incredibly exhilarating --- I just wanted to laugh, or cry, with joy.
We capped off the day with a visit to Ohope beach, which was lovely, and dinner at the "Africa" cafe, which was wonderful South African food, although I think they were overwhelmed by the fifteen of us --- me, Chris Double, Chris Pearce, Matthew Gregan, Karl Tomlinson, Daniel Holbert, Jonathan Watt, Cameron McCormack, plus Doug Schepers from the W3C, plus a few partners and family members. All in all, an excellent adventure!