From the Oceanic Discoverer in New Zealand
Feb 3, 2013 - Oceanic Discoverer
We woke to calm seas, a slightly overcast sky with pleasant temperatures in the mid-60s. Just before breakfast, White Island appeared on the horizon, diving Australasian Gannet, flying-fish and a large Manta-Ray escorted us in. As we approached, plumes of steam were visible from many miles off. But today, as we came closer, dense plumes, laden with mud and rock occasionally shot into the air at the far end of the carter. Lying at the northern end of the Taupo-Rotorua volcanic zone, part of the Pacific-rim-of-fire, it is one of four active volcanoes on that line; it often emits clouds of steam and the occasional spurt of ash-laden cloud which can be seen hanging over the island; but today it was at its most spectacular. Its Maori name is Whakaari (to make visible), Captain Cook on his first visit to New Zealand in 1769 gave the volcano its English name, inspired by the dense clouds of smoke or steam.
At the end of the 19th century, there was a huge demand for sulphur for farm fertilizer, and the first sulphur was mined on White Island in the early 1880s. An eruption in September 1914 caused a mudflow that swept the mining settlement out to sea, leaving only a cat alive and no trace of the 12 people that work there. Parts of the abandoned workings could be seen when we landed on the south-eastern side of the island. The White Island Sulphur Company gave the island to the father of the present owner and in 1953 it was declared a Private Scenic Reserve, now administered by the Department of Conservation (National Park Service).
Wildlife abounds around the island, three small colonies of Australasian Gannets have established, petrels and other sea birds nest on the nearby islands and rock stacks including Whale Island; smaller but again an active volcano.
Today a heavy swell allowed only the nimble-of-foot to land, but those of us who viewed the activity from close inshore aboard the ship had excellent views of the increasing volcanic activity.
It was a great day and a spectacular way to finish the cruise.