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Posts tagged ‘volcanos’

New Year Trip: 10~Walking in a volcano

Here is a great aerial photo of White Island thanks to the Civil Defence website.

Landing at White Island with a boat load of people isn’t straight forward. There are two possible places, one is more preferable than the other, but it’s still a bit dodgy. There used to be a jetty but that has long gone.

Before we left the boat we were all issued with hard hats and gas masks. Hats to be worn straight away, masks around our necks to be used when required. Looking like an assortment of Bob the Builders we were ready!

The boat stopped about 50m off shore. A zodiac, which was detached from the back of the boat, transferred us in several group lots to a place near the jetty remains. It was a bit of a step and scramble off but then we were free to start walking and gawking at this strange place.

We had been split into two groups so we went to our respective meeting points.

Each group had two guides. We were given a short speech on the main risks to our safety and what to do should say an eruption or lahar occur. They also said we would not be told when to wear our masks – it was down to the individual when they started to become affected by the acidic fumes.

Then we were off! The circuit was roughly an hour and we’d be making about 10 stops along the way.

Off we go. Troup Head is the high point behind and the anchored PeeJay boat just sneaks into the frame.

After a time we started to feel the fumes – a tickle in the throat which made you cough – and suddenly everyone was fiddling with elastic bands to secure the breathing mask in place.

Hayley and Mike, wearing the latest in hard hat and gas mask fashion. They made a world of difference - it would have been very hard to complete the tour without one.

Sulphur deposits. The yellow was an amazing burst of colour in landscape of grey, white and brown.

Sulphur mining in a volcano sounds like a risky endeavour but there were four operations over the years trying to do this. The first brief attempt was in the 1880s, followed by another ultimately unsuccessful endeavour two decades later, before the third mining operation starting in 1914. Unfortunately this was to be a tragic year. Two workers died in separate incidents and a few months later, part of the crater rim collapsed. This caused a lahar which swept pretty much everything out to see and all 10 men perished. There was one survivor: the island’s cat Peter. (He was renamed Peter the Great.)

In 1925 a new factory was built but profitability eluded this operation as well, not helped by the Depression, and it closed in 1933. The tour was to include a stop at the factory remains which I couldn’t wait to see.

We were able to approach the rim of the main internal crater (not the main big crater rim, the tour did not take us up there) – sometimes conditions are such that you can’t. There was so much steam though, which kept swirling around, so we didn’t get a clear view inside it.

For a few minutes at one point it rained lightly but I didn’t pay it much heed and the guides didn’t draw attention to it. Later they explained how they used to wear cotton (I think) staff t-shirts which they would start to get holes and generally fall apart because of the acid rain. But now they used a more robust material that lasted much longer.

But but but… huh?… Acid rain?!!…

I guess it’s no wonder really… acidic fumes, steam… but I did wonder why they didn’t mention this earlier. Perhaps because as a one-off, it’s no big deal for your clothes or footwear. And perhaps because it’s not ‘bad acid’. In any case, our clothes from that day are still intact so all is well.

The guide encouraged the keen ones to sample water from these two streams. Not exactly delicious by all accounts.

Being a volcano it is actively monitored by GNS Science. The guides pointed out the places where the various monitoring doodads are located. This includes a couple of webcams. This link has the latest images looking up the crater floor past the old factory toward the main internal crater which constantly steams away. I like this angle best because the scientists placed a teeny model dinosaur next to the lens which appears in every frame :).

Walking toward Shark Bay and Crater Bay. The 1914 lahar swept through here.

An alternative means of seeing the island if you couldn’t be bothered with the boat journey is by helicopter. Popular too, judging by the three or four that came and went during our visit. Perhaps a tad more expensive though!

Last stop of the tour was the factory. Cool!

The sulphur factory, abandoned in 1933 and left to the elements.

The cladding has all but gone leaving the concrete exposed

Wooden beams that may have been used in the roof - hence they're a little redundant now

In such a harsh climate and environment some of the wooden beams and frames still prevail

Mike behind a rusted iron thingy

Wish we'd had more time to fossick through and photograph the factory - I love a good ruin

All too soon we had to reboard the zodiac and transfer back to the boat. I loved the tour, it was a fantastic opportunity to venture through an active volcanic environment which I found really interesting, especially with the island’s history. It’s something I’ll do again one day.

On the return journey, while munching through the provided lunch packs, we had a closer look at some of the island’s coastline but I’ll pick that up in the next and final post of this series.

New Year Trip: 9~Dolphin delight on the way to White

(Surely a contender for cheesiest title!)

A new day dawned and we were relieved to hear that the tours were running. During peak season they run three per day and we were on the last tour, leaving around midday. The peak season for White Island Tours is only a couple of weeks long, coinciding with the main holiday period, and they must have been gutted to lose several days because of the storm. We went down to check on the river at the time the day’s middle tour was heading out.

The largest of the PeeJay boats negotiating the standard reverse turn before heading down the river and out to sea

Now to kill some time before our turn...

What’s the big deal with visiting White Island? It’s a volcano! More precisely, it’s the summit of a submarine volcano, maybe 2,000 centuries old and with over half its height submerged. New Zealand’s most active volcano, it normally ‘rests’ at alert level one. Things got a bit more exciting in 2000 when it rose to level two and did in fact erupt.

But mid-morning plans were suddenly thrown into disarray. Back at the motel I was contacted by reception, asking if we were still checking out. Huh??? No I said, we organised yesterday to rebook on a tour today and to keep our room for another night. She hung up to investigate. It wasn’t sounding good so I went along in person. Amazingly we were neither booked onto a tour, nor booked into the motel that night. Argh!

Luckily there was still room on the midday tour. Phew. Our room wasn’t available but there was one room left – a villa next door – and they agreed we could have that at the same rate. Disaster averted! After what was a bit of a cock up they really made amends.

Having to pack up made the rest of the time fly and it was soon time to check in and board. We were joined by about 30 other tour-goers, mostly foreign I think, and half a dozen staff. The boat manoeuvred away and headed down the river. It was great getting a perspective from the water.

Boats moored along Whakatane River

On a rock at the mouth of the Whakatane River is a statue of Wairaka

The story of Wairaka is from the 12th century. She saw a waka drifting out to sea shortly after her family landed from Polynesia during the Great Migration. Although women were not supposed to handle waka, she shouted “Kia whakatane au I ahau” (“I will be bold and act as a man") and paddled it back to shore. And that is how Whakatane got its name.

White Island is 49km away which takes about 80 minutes to reach by water. We settled in for the ride.

The very clear separation between deep sea water and the mud-tainted water caused by the floods

My er windswept look

This is probably about as windswept as Mike gets

While overcast, it wasn't raining or particularly cold so we enjoyed the fresh air and views from the back of PeeJay IV

At one point Whale Island was neatly positioned in front of Mt Edgecumbe back on the mainland

Whale Island, named partly for its silhouette likeness to you-can-guess-what, is a wildlife sanctuary. Tours there offer sightings of dolphins, whales, penguins, seals, seabirds, as well as diving and snorkelling. May have to come back for a closer look one day.

Back to the tour at hand, the captain had mentioned that it might be possible to come across either whales or dolphins. I forgot about this until there was a flurry of excitement and it was announced that we’d come across a pod of dolphins (or, they’d come across us). Already being outside gave us an advantage to those inside, and we scurried to the front of the boat. From there we had a fantastic view of these amazing creatures.

After a few minutes we parted company. It was an unexpected bonus, and a privilege, to have seen them.

White Island wasn’t far away.

Some wee island rock things just to the left (north I guess) of White Island

Not too far away now

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