From the Oceanic Discoverer in New Zealand

Jan 12, 2013 - Oceanic Discoverer

Flying fish off White Island
Guests at volcanic vents on White Island

White Island

We woke to calm seas and a gloriously fine day. Just before breakfast White Island appeared on the horizon, diving Australasian gannets and flying fish escorted us in. As we approached, plumes of steam were visible from many miles off. Lying at the northern end of the Taupo-Rotorua volcanic zone, part of the Pacific-rim-of-fire, it is one of three 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. Its Maori name is Whakaari (to make visable). Capt. 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 of 1914 caused a mudflow that swept the mining settlement out to sea, leaving only the cat alive and no trace of the 12 people that worked there. Parts of the abandoned workings could be seen when we landed on the southeastern 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, a colony of Australasian Gannets has established, petrels and other sea birds nest on the nearby islands and rock stacks including Whale Island; smaller but again an active volcano.

On a lighter note, second cups of coffee were not in demand at breakfast as White Island has a complete almost barren landscape with a complete lack of bathroom facilities.

Today would be as good as it gets when visiting this very distinct, active, changing landscape that White Island offers. It was a Great Day.

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About the Author

Malcolm Campbell

Malcolm Campbell

National Geographic Staff

Native New Zealander Malcolm Campbell is a professional naturalist and birder who has worked for 20 years on conservation and environmental issues in his country's national parks, forests, and coastal marine environments. He has led many National Geographic Expeditions in New Zealand and will share his in-depth knowledge of his country's people, political history, flora and fauna, and indigenous Mâori culture.

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