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East Coast Holiday: White Island

We figured seeing as we were going to be in the area we should try to go out to Whakaari/White Island, which is very much a weather dependant activity. Luckily for us the weather held out and the trip we were booked on sailed as intended. We took the journey with White Island Tours and turned up at the allotted time to sign forms and get the trip info. Then it was across the road to the boat.

We got on board and found somewhere to sit. This turned out to be a good move as the boat was full, I think everyone got a seat in the end but it was a bit tight. Fairly early on while still on the Whakatane river I went outside and that’s where I spent much of the trip to the island, ready to photograph anything that caught my eye. The first photographs were of the The Wairaka statue found on a rock near the river mouth.

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The statue of Wairaka

The trip to White island took around an hour and a half and unfortunately the weather was overcast and we travelled through a few bands of rain. There were plenty of birds to be seen but the ocean was a bit too choppy to be seeing anything else like whales or dolphins. We were lucky to find the weather clearing as we approached the island and it was fine blue skies by the time we were transferring to shore.

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Approaching White Island and improving weather

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The bay where we would be landing

To get to shore we were taken in inflatable dingies and the crew then negotiated the swell and breaking waves to get us close to the wharf. Once on land we moved away from the wharf and were given a safety briefing before starting our tour. We were shown how to use our gas masks, given advice on what to do in the event of a volcanic event and asked to stick to the path. Heading off we could see three people ahead who had taken the luxury option, their guide also a helicopter pilot.

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A helicopter hides in the landscape

Our guide took us around the island and explained the various sights we were seeing; the bubbling water, billowing steam, the colours in the landscape from the various minerals, the smells and lots of other details. As much as I was interested in the details I was also getting lots of photos, I’d bought the tripod along with me and got lots of interesting photos and played with recording some video as well. The island is otherworldly with the almost vegetation free crater looking smaller than it actually is, features appearing small until you see insect sized people walking through the distance.

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A group ahead of us

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Sulphur and steam

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A steaming pool

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Insect people

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More insect people

The often acidic air meant we were using out gas masks regularly, and we had been given sweets suck on to help keep our mouths moist. The wind wasn’t that strong in the hour and a half we were on the island, I can imagine it gets a lot worse on wetter, windier days. The acid is also not good for teeth, I joked with one of our guides that they should be supplied with a dental plan given their almost daily exposure.

We ended our walk at the remains of the sulphur mining buildings near the wharf and spent time walking through the skeletons of buildings, looking at the spectacularly rusted equipment and trying to imagine what the things were for. The time went by very quickly, the visit seeming all too short.

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Listening to the guide

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Decaying buildings and equipment

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An old anchor

Back to the boat and time for some lunch and a few took the chance to take a swim. The return journey was over calmer seas and we week lucky enough to come across two separate pods of dolphins. Each time the dolphins were spotted the captain slowed and moved around so everyone got a good view. The second pod was circling around a school of fish, lots of seabirds joining in the feeding.

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Zooming in

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Fish herding

It was a fantastic trip and well recommended, I’d love to go back and spend longer on the island. Back at Whakatane we spent some time walking through town and ended up at a supermarket getting some steak to cook on the BBQ back at the Top 10. Cooking the steak on the electric BBQ was an experience, it tasted OK even it a good proportion stuck to the surface of the BBQ. Only one more night in the tent to go.

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