12 March 2011 – White Island (Whakaare) to Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, North Island, NZ

BB got our tour with White Island Tours all organized while we were underway yesterday, via both email & cell phone. The wind changed during the night & now we were anchored a bit too close to  their mooring, so we pulled in some chain. It was pretty wishy-washy, so not very good sleeping last night, but at least the wind isn't very strong, so we’re not getting sulfurous steam across the boat.

The Pee Jay Tour boat arrived at 11 & disgorged about a hundred people on shore before picking us up. Everyone had on closed shoes, so we wore our hiking boots but would've preferred Chacos as it was very hot. As soon as we arrived on the island, we were issued hard hats & gas masks, which everyone else already had. There were about 20 in our group, & we walked toward the spewing vents inside the crater. We could see the steam from the anchorage, but now we could see the source. Such power! There were some bubbling pools along the way to the vents, & the only time we needed the gas masks was walking by these pools, through a gully where the sulfuric acid was strongest. At that point, nearly everyone began coughing, even with the gas mask on, & my eyes were stinging from the acidic air. The guide had given us hard candy to suck on to help with the irritation we might experience breathing the toxic air.

We were able to stand right next to the vents as the wind was blowing the steam away from us, & there were bubbling mud pools right near them, as well. My favorite. I did a cartwheel right in front of the closest vent & ended up with yellow hands.

We walked up to the overlook of the green lake where there were many more vents throwing steam into the air - both big & small vents. Lots of steam! The colors of the rocks covered with sulfur were fantastic - bright yellows, oranges, & reds. We walked all around the inside of the crater, climbing to Point Overall with - as you'd expect - an overall view of the crater. The bubbling mud pools simply fascinate me. They make such wonderful plopping noises, & such interesting designs when the mud floops all around. I could watch them for hours.

We visited the old sulfur works where the guide explained the process of sulfur extraction. Sulfur mining was abandoned in 1914 after a landslide from volcanic activity killed all ten workers; however, Peter the cat survived. He was thereafter called Peter the Great. Mining was started again, but was stopped in 1933 when it was discovered there wasn't enough sulfur in the rocks for the mining to be profitable.

It was really amazing to be so near all that raw power coming from under the earth. The sound of the vents was like big machines in a factory - we could hear it all over the island, even when we were far from the vents.

The water around the boat was tinted with runoff, making it brownish-orange. The guide told us it was only on the surface, & that the diving was spectacular underneath. We would’ve liked to dive, but didn’t want to spend another night there in case the wind changed & engulfed us in sulfur steam. We had read that the sulfur is very hard on the metal parts of the boat.

So we weighed anchor immediately upon returning from the tour with plans to sail overnight to Tauranga to visit BB’s friend Brian Kent.

Despite our plan to sail all night, we were able to get a full night's sleep at anchor since the wind was favorable & the smooth water in the Bay of Plenty allowed for a quick passage. It was delightful sailing hard on the wind, with nary a splash, & we arrived in Tauranga at quarter to 12. It was exciting coming into a big harbor with range lights & channel markers, then rounding the Mount to the anchorage, right next to where the big ships go by in the channel.

A very fulfilling day indeed.

says ADR