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One of the highlights of my 15 months living in New Zealand was the opportunity to visit and walk inside the crater of a live smouldering volcano. Situated just 49 km offshore from the town of Whakatāne in the north Island, lies the active White Island (Whakaari), which has been smoking since it was discovered by James Cook in 1769. It is one of the worlds most accessible live volcanoes, and with the majority of it sitting beneath the sea, you can step directly into the crater without needing to do any climbing – hooray!
How to reach White Island volcano in New Zealand
The only way to reach the volcano is by booking with a tour operator, either reaching the island by boat as part of a tour group, or if you are feeling flash – by private helicopter! I chose the much cheaper boat option with White Island Tours. The journey to the island was aboard the PeeJay luxury cruiser and it took an hour and half to arrive there. If you are lucky you may even see some whales and dolphins in the ocean. Note: if you suffer from sea sickness, make sure you take travel sickness pills beforehand as the ride is pretty choppy.
Upon arrival, the boat cannot dock at the island and stops a short way out – you need to climb into a rubber dingy to complete the journey. Hard hats and gas masks are handed out to you to use for the duration of the tour and you will be asked to wear the mask whenever you enter areas where the sulphur fumes are particularly strong (these fumes can make you cough a lot!). Boiled sweets are also handed out to help prevent the coughing too, and the hard hats are provided for your safety just incase there are any flying explosive materials!
An expert guide will then lead you around whilst explaining the history and geology of the island. The glittering yellow sulphur crystals, bubbling mud, unusual rock formations and 800°C toxic gas steaming vents really make you feel like you are walking on another planet – the landscapes are truly incredible. You will also see the remains of an old abandoned sulphur factory which has survived several eruptions since the 1930s.
After spend 2 hours exploring you are asked to make your way back to the boat, where you have the opportunity to have a quick swim in the sea and eat the packed lunch which is included as part of the tour.
White Island is relatively unknown to tourists as it not heavily advertised across New Zealand – but I think it should be extremely high on your itinerary for any north island road trip.
Visiting White Island is very weather dependant, so if you really don’t want to miss out make sure you book a few nights stay in Whakatane, or in the nearby town of Rotorua. My trip got cancelled due to strong winds so I had to reschedule for the next day and rebook accommodation. In peak seasons this tour does sell out so make sure you book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Address: White Island Tours, 15 The Strand East, Whakatane 3120
Opening hours: 7 days a week except Christmas
Tour price: Adult: $199, Child: $130 (15 years and under)
To book online click here
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- A day trip to Milford Sound, New Zealand
- A Guide to Arrowtown, New Zealand
- 20 New Zealand food and drinks items you need to try
- Delivering post on the Picton Mail Boat Cruise
- Visiting the Monteith’s brewery in Greymouth
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Blog post and photography by Caroline Keyzor and Neil Hassall and is copyrighted. Please do not use without permission.