When Tim and I were looking over the list of optional excursions that we could select from to customize our trip, a helicopter ride to White Island immediately got passed over by me. It was the most expensive excursion on the list and I thought we could spend that money elsewhere. Even with a discount, the price for the two of us combined was slightly more than the downpayment for our trip. Well, after talking with our travel agent and doing some more research on it, we decided to add the excursion to our trip.
It was worth every penny.
White Island is an active volcanic island in the Bay of Plenty, off the coast of the northern island. It’s privately owned and only three or four tour companies are allowed to take visitors to the island. We learned that each tour company has to pay $70 per person to visit, which is one reason why the price to visit can be so high. Apparently the NZ government keeps trying to buy the island, but the family that owns it refuses to sell it. It was used off and on to mine sulphur until the early 1900’s, but several disasters caused the mining to stop completely. There are still some remnants of the mining buildings on the island today. We got home and learned that the volcano had a small eruption just a few days after our visit. It’s monitored 24/7 by scientists and the tour companies to ensure it’s safe to visit.
We left for White Island from the Volcanic Air Safari office on Lake Rotorua in the morning. The excursion included a roundtrip ride in a helicopter (35 minutes each way) to White Island with an hour and a half tour on the actual island. Including the pilot, the helicopter fit four people. Our pilot/guide was so great (I think her name was Danielle). She was so knowledgeable, and I love how she pointed out land marks as we flew between Rotoroa and White Island. Which, by the way, the land between the two places is beautiful—forests, rolling hills, farms, lakes.
Once we landed on the island, we were given hard hats to wear and gas masks incase we needed them because of the sulphur smell. The sulphur smell wasn’t all that noticeable for the most part, but the gas masks were definitely needed at times! The first thing I thought of after getting out of the helicopter is that I felt like we had just landed on the moon. Obviously I’ve never been to the moon, but it was the first thing that came to mind. The island had no signs of life (for obvious reasons), it was smelly, smokey, rocky, colorful and dull at the same time, and big.
The island seemed to be smoking a bit more than usual that day, which made the sulphur smell worse at times. The large amount of smoke that day also, unfortunately, made it next to impossible to see Crater Lake.
Here’s the remnants of the sulphur mine I mentioned earlier. It was almost eerie seeing what’s left of the building and all of the materials. Everything is original—even the wood.
Aaaaand, just a few more favorite photos. We found out that the other person on the tour with us writes for Time Magazine. He was there on a personal vacation, but he was asking a ton of questions and constantly taking notes, which makes me think there may be a write-up.