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Is This Really Earth?

Updated on June 22, 2011

You could be forgiven for thinking you were on a planet in a far away galaxy. It is so unlike anything else you could see, would ever see, on planet earth.

This is White Island and I am on a Volcano Tour on one of New Zealand’s islands.

The air is acrid; unlike anything I’ve experienced on planet earth, even the "rotten egg" sulphur smell of nearby Rotorua’s geysers and mud pools seems pleasant compared to this cloying smell.

Why did I do this? I need reminding of this several times throughout my White Island volcano tour. It is earth and White Island is one of New Zealand’s numerous islands but it’s also a unique environment nothing like any other part of the country.

White Island Volcano Tour
White Island Volcano Tour

White Island, an active volcano, thought to be between 150,000 and 200,000 years old is just off the shore of the North Island of New Zealand and close to Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty.

It can be seen “puffing” from the mainland; sometimes white cloud like formations belch into the air like giant chimney stacks. Sometimes a menacing looking black substance spews from her core. White Island alert status and moon like terrain is constantly changing and locals on the mainland (Whakatane and Ohope) are wary. Their concern is spot on too because she could erupt at anytime.

White Island’s activity is monitored constantly by the IGNS (Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences). For up to date Volcanic activity see - Volanic Activity White Island.

It’s certainly eerie wandering around this island. There is little plant life because of the acid environment.


Visitors on this volcano tour must wear hard hats at all times and gas masks are required equipment (provided by the tour operator) although they often hang loosely around the necks of this group of ramblers. Sometimes, they are called into use though and we gasp through the filtering gas mask mechanism to cleanse the air.

What does work overtime though are our cameras - they point this way and that trying to capture images of our “day on another planet”.

It’s harsh here and our two guides – one leading and one tailing the small group are on high alert. You can only visit here with a recognized and approved company and then you must be accompanied by a guide.

We pick our way, carefully, along narrow paths, fumaroles hissing beside us. Sometimes these fumaroles have small head, the size of a small coin which allows steam to escape from the boiling earth below, sometimes they are larger. They constantly change.

We wander over the island and snake our way up to the crater. If you are lucky you might be able to see, through the rising steam, the hot, hot milky colored water in the lake created in the giant crater. It’s steaming the day of our visit and rather shy. The steam only clears fleetingly and then her shroud envelops her again.

There is beauty here. A raw beauty, quite unlike anything else you are likely to see. Brightly colored and varied shapes of sulphur crystals grow and cling to edges here and there.


Natures color provides sharp relief to the browns of the volcanic rock and the burnt orange rusting steel disintegrating slowly as these man made structures erode over time.

There have been a few attempts to mine sulphur here on White Island. Early Maori recognized the value of sulphur to fertilise their abundant gardens. Later, there were several attempts to commercialize this naturally occurring resource. I shake my head in wonderment that anyone was crazy enough to even try to run a business here. Why would men work here? The sulphur even eroded their clothing we are told.

The rusting steel structures a dramatic but grim reminder of these attempts.

All attempts have been abandoned because of volcanic eruptions and the dangerous conditions. In 1914 the side of a hill collapsed causing a massive lahar which swept down the side of the island wiping out the settlement tragically killing the men working on White Island.

Still later another group tried to develop a business but the depression of the 1930’s forced them into bankruptcy. It’s ironic, I think, that economics extinguished what mother nature wasn’t able to.

The atmosphere is eerie and we are on edge, nervous in the knowledge that this is an active volcano, the whole time we are on this unique island.


General information:

The island is privately owned by the Buttle Family Trust and they have been appointed the owners of White Island Tours as guardians.  The Buttle family is keen to see that the island is protected and so access is strictly limited.  There are just four designated tourist operators permitted to conduct public volcano tours. 


Tours depart from Whakatane wharf and they are weather dependent.

A reasonable level of fitness and agility is required to go on this volcano tour.

Take water, sunscreen, camera.  Wear good shoes and take a jacket as it can get cold.

Tours cost approximately NZ$175 per person by boat.  It’s also possible to fly into WhiteIsland by helicopter.


** This hub is copyright Travelespresso. Please do not copy - that's stealing!**


If you like this hub, please rate it up, pass it on and please leave a comment. Writers love feedback. Thanks for stopping by.


Volcano Trip to White Island - courtesy NZ2008White


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    • Abby Lysach profile image

      Abby Lysach 6 years ago from Singapore

      nice hub! by the way, what was that sound? sound of the wind? or else? I mean the volcano?... Nice adventures they have, anyway. Agree with vicki goodwin, it made me want to explore it, too.

      thanks for sharing :-)

    • vicki goodwin profile image

      Sojourner McConnell 7 years ago from Winchester Kentucky

      An awesome hub. It made me want to explore this unique island.

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Come for an RV trip downunder!

      We have wonderful camping sites and you can wander over this volcanic site too.

      Mind you - we drive on the other side of the road in New Zealand so that's sometimes challenging for drivers unused to it - at least it is for me when I'm in countries where they drive on the other side!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 7 years ago from USA

      You are a wonderful writer, and your article on White Island is fascinating. I loved the photographs, too! We've been to a few volcanic sites, but none as other-worldly as this!

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Thanks for your kind comments about my photographs and story about White Island. It really is an "other worldly" place.

    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Wow! Love the photographs and story. I get the point of is this really earth and I agree that White Island looks like it could be worlds away. Thanks for a great article. Teresa

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      There is constant activity on White Island. She belches steam constantly; some days more than others.

      By volcanic activity I wonder if you mean eruption? The most recent eruption was Mt Ruapehu where there was a lava flow and molten rocks thrown high into the air. It was a most spectacular but rather scary sight. I'd been skiing on the mountain in the preceding days. Everyone was safe.

      Regarding wearing masks. Although the air is very toxic we wore them some of the time - probably should have worn them all the time but didn't! Thanks for your insightful comments.

    • Seakay profile image

      Seakay 7 years ago from Florida

      I noticed some of the people weren't wearing masks. Wasn't the air toxic? I am not one to venture around volcanoes (part of my schooling... the view of Pompeii!) Is this in the area of the recent volcanic activity from New Zealand?

      Great pic and info!

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Yes I do get to see some interesting places on my travels. I've also been to the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii and I agree with your comments. White Island is quite different and eerie. Thanks for your lovely comments PeggyW.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      We got to see the active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, but the landscape is quite different. All of this billowing steam and barren landscape makes Yellowstone National Park look like the Garden of Eden. Between your great photos and the video, I think that I have seen enough to satisfy my curiosity. Thanks for sharing this unique place on earth with the rest of us. You certainly get to do some interesting things on your travels!

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      I'm glad you enjoyed my photos and the writing lucieanne. Thanks for commenting.

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Wow! what an experience. I really enjoyed reading this and love the photos.

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      When you come to NZ borge - put this active volcano on your list of "must sees". Its not often you get a chance to visit one which is still puffing! Thanks for commenting.

    • borge_009 profile image

      borge_009 7 years ago from Philippines

      Great places and great hub. I would definitely love to visit there if I have the chance. Thanks

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Being on an active volcano was certainly and "out there" experience. Great that you liked the photos and the hub. Thanks for your comment.

    • europewalker profile image

      europewalker 7 years ago

      travelespresso, wonderful hub and photos, would love to visit there, what an amazing life you live!

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Glad you liked my photos sagbee. It is amazing isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

    • sagbee profile image

      sagbee 7 years ago from Delhi

      This is beautiful.. I love to see the pictues of earth... Its simply amazing.. Would love to go to this place.. :) thanks for sharing :)

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Hello PollyC

      I am glad you enjoyed "the trip" to an active volcano. Your comments are lovely, thank you so much.

    • profile image

      Maxinsurance 7 years ago

      Great info you have collected ........... keep in touch

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      I would love to go to New Zealand.

    • Polly C profile image

      Polly C 7 years ago from UK

      hi travelespresso - I really enjoyed this hub. White Island looks like an amazing place to visit, and as you say, quite unlike anything else on earth, and certainly unlike any place I have ever seen. I loved the way you described it, giving your readers a real feel for the place and a sense of your own experience. Thank you for a great read :)

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Do put it on "your list" for your next visit to NZ AuriFin.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      I saw White Island from the mainland and it looked awesome with that white plume of smoke billowing from it. Wouldn't like to live that close to a live volcano though. Interesting hub

    • AuriFin profile image

      AuriFin 7 years ago

      Wow - another place to put on the list for my next visit to NZ :)

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 7 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Thank you so much for your flattering comments 4FoodSafety. Glad you enjoyed your time in New Zealand.

    • 4FoodSafety profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 7 years ago from Fontana, WI

      I visited New Zealand and this is nothing like any part of it. Fascinating - the earth has so many things to offer. I miss the vivid blue lupines. Great Hub - great writer and great photos too!