Thursday, September 14, 2017

White Island with Frontier Helicopters

Since it appears (said she, bitterly) that 2017 is the year of staying at home - honestly, there's NOTHING happening, travel-wise, for me this year, and I've no idea why - then it seems time to catch up on some of the stuff that the overseas tourists have so far beaten me to. Today it was White Island - New Zealand's most active marine volcano. Currently the most active volcano, full stop, actually (for which, due thanks). It's been rumbling and steaming away since before there were people to marvel at it, and though the intensity varies, it's always had a trail of cloud streaming away downwind, which is the source of its name, thanks to Captain Cook back in 1769. Of course, the Maori had already noticed it before then: they called it Whakaari.
You can get there by boat, but I fancied the chopper option, and persuaded Frontier Helicopters to take me. It's expensive if you're paying - almost $700 per person - but then, helicopter rides are always pricey, and it really is a good trip. We did the usual Kiwi waiver-lite thing, pilot Luke Lamont checked the GeoNet reading on his app, and then we strapped in and took off for the 20 minute flight out to the island.

Tip: if you're sitting up front and poking your camera lens out of the little window hatch, do take the precaution of removing your lens cap and its elastic keeper and putting them in your pocket. Because what happens if you don't, is that it gets instantly sucked right off, never to be seen again as it slowly degrades in the ocean. If it's not eaten first by some doomed sea creature.
Anyway. We landed and then Luke took us for a circuit, explaining the geology, telling us the history, and demonstrating the acidity of the environment. We'd already been coughing and snatching at our gas masks when a particularly thick cloud of sulphur steam enveloped us, but he got us dipping our fingers in the warm streams bubbling out of the ground. "It tastes like blood!" he encouraged us.
We were there for an hour, trailing around, stopping to gawp at the fumeroles everywhere, the ones beyond the sulky turquoise and super-acid crater lake as big as factory chimneys, roaring away just like a jet taking off. The reddish crater walls were full of cracks, there were big areas of literally acid-yellow deposits around the sulphur chimneys that were souring the air, and all around us were heaps of rocks deposited by the lahar that broke the crater wall one night in 1914 and swept away the sulphur factory buildings there and all the eleven men asleep inside them (not Peter the cat, though, who was out prowling and was rescued later).
They built another, later, but it didn't do well and now all that's left are some very photogenic rusted ruins. Wood gets preserved, though - it looks as bright and shiny as the day it was milled. In Oregon! (Talk about coals to Newcastle - I wonder if they used the same ship that carried NZ kauri to re-build San Francisco?)
And then we flew back again, to cute and dinky Whakatane with its cute and dinky airport, and then got back on Air Chathams' claustrophobic little plane to return to Auckland. Tick.

2 comments:

the queen said...

Did it? Taste like blood?

Pamela Wade said...

Yes! Warm and salty, just a bit more runny.

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