Sunday, November 13, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

White Island

So, maybe not only in New Zealand, but not in many places... Two weekends ago, Shannon and I got to walk on an active volcano. But not one of those lava sputtering (or drooling, as the location may warrant) volcanoes, one that blows sulfur and ammonia!

White Island is a privately owned volcano (seriously - the guy wanted to say he owns one, and he won't sell it to the government) about 80 minutes by boat off the coast of Whakatane, in the Bay of Plenty. While it was a pretty gray day, it wasn't raining, so it was all good, despite the following day being picture perfect on shore (see prior post).

After arrival, you land in a dinghy that holds a surprisingly high number of people.

And then it's right into it. You're walking through a blown out crater past these mounds. They are like blisters, just waiting to explode with hot gas. Sweet.

A lot of the rocks strewn about have an obvious sulfur content.

Clearly volcanic rock lying around, and big chunks of sulfur. And of course, as you'd expect, bubbling mud.

There is one area with a high concentration of vents. This is the bit where you've pretty much got to sport the gas mask. Some people were still struggling with the air.

 It seems pretty clear why that might be. Do you know how hard it is to use a viewfinder with a hard hat and a gas mask?

But you get there eventually, and when the wind is just right, and the steam goes the right way, you can see this tube into the earth, and what's coming out of it. Pretty wild stuff.

And way at the center of the crater is a lake. We didn't get awesome views of it you could still just make out the far side. As you can clearly see, that water is green. It was sold to us as a pH of -0.4, which I didn't know was even possible. The word is that every few years, the bacteria living in the lake changes and it turns red and blue.

There have been many failed attempts at mining operations on the island over the years. The remnants are clear. I can't imagine trying to live out there for three months at a clip. It would be pretty rough. On the days that the seas were too rough to take the boat around the point, they had to climb up and over a cliff before going to work all day in the sulfur mines. Fun.

The weather did clear a bit on the way out, and we got a good view of the island. On a clear day, you can see it from the shore of the mainland. As an aside, I find it interesting that the North Island is referred to as the mainland. All about perspective, I guess.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


This wayback post goes... really far back. To Easter, and a four day weekend.

We had decided to combine two trips into one based on our route. Part one was to head to Cape Reinga, the northern tip of the North Island. Part two was to swing through the Bay of Islands, and take the Cream Cruise, which is a historical route used to take mail and supplies to little islands. It's also an excuse to spend a day on a boat and swim with dolphins. Leading up to the trip, the weather was looking dubious for all but Friday, but we actually got lucky with some great weather until Monday morning.

An early departure Friday and a wise selection of route meant that we never really had serious traffic problems on the way north. We did our usual thing, meandering and stopping when it suited us or when something caught our eye.

The goal for the day kept shifting, but in the end, we opted to try to make it all the way to the Cape in case the weather turned. In the end, we managed to turn a sixish hour drive into ten, which is about par for us since we've been doing the "abroad road trip" thing.

Once getting onto the peninsula, we had a stop at 90 mile beach (which I think is more like 90 km beach). It's a popular stretch to drive on, as access is easy, and the sand is pretty firm. They even take buses on it. I think we could have gone for a cruise up the beach, as we saw 2wd's pulling it off, but we opted not to, as it was fairly busy out there (as beaches go) and it is tide dependent. Really pretty, and I bet if you get away from the accesses, quite desolate at times.

We made a Quick stop at Rawawa beach. This is up near the (claimed) purest deposits of silica sand in the world. I don't know for sure, but it's pretty shockingly white sand even across from the exact spot.

Then we made a break to the Cape.


This sign has a matched pair at the south end of the South Island. See upcoming post.

It didn't capture all that well, but in the shot below, see how there is a wave coming from low/mid left to upper right, and a wave going from sort of upper left to low/mid right? That's the Tasman clashing with the Pacific. You can actually see it churning about. Pretty powerful stuff.

We got there with about an hour to spare for sunset, so we really got to take it in. Lovely spot. As NZ goes, it was packed with tourists, but it's not like it was really that busy. I guess the distance marker is a real destination, as all the backpackers wanted their photo taken with it.

I was more interested in getting the sunset, which turned out to be a bit anticlimactic due to the clouds. But that's how it goes sometimes. I did put together an extremely brief, incomplete time lapse of the event.

After a night camping at a reasonable, but somewhat uninspired DOC campsite (the most northern in NZ, mind you), we headed to the giant Te Paki sand dunes. This is the place where you can go sand boarding. Pretty easy idea - take a boogie board and slide down a sandy hill.

We got there pretty early, but didn't expect we would beat the guys who rent boards. We were wrong, but that turned out to be great. The place was desolate. We spent a long time hiking through the dunes. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen. I imagine this is what it's like in the middle of the desert in the Middle East. Truly beautiful. Watching the wind shape the dunes (and cover our footprints) was fascinating, if you could avoid getting sandblasted in the process. And running down the dunes was a ton of fun! Far more than going up them, which was really hard. I was sinking in to mid-shin on what we estimate is about a 30 degree slope.

We decided to leave, get a board, and come back. I'll be the first to admit that I thought it sounded pretty pedestrian, but I was sorely mistaken. It turned out to be a hell of a lot of fun!

Next time, we'll know to go early and prepared. By the time we left, the place was getting pretty crowded, and the vendors had showed up. But early in the morning - lovely.

This was the big event of the day. It was followed by lazy lunches on the water, checking out the local oddities, a stop at NZ's most northern pub (a bit of a dive, I must say), and some hit or miss weather for camping.

Sunday was a cruise in mixed weather Paihia to catch the Cream Cruise on Monday. We went through some nice countryside, but nothing particularly of note. We would up in Paihia only to realize its a tourist trap for backpackers. A very uninspired little place. So we took the ferry to Russell, across the bay, which was a lovely, historic little town. We saw a massive ray (sting? manta? other?), but unfortunately got no photos, as it was nearly pitch dark.

Monday morning came, and we awoke to torrential rain. Luckily, we hadn't yet booked the cruise, as we knew it wasn't looking so great. Turns out, I also woke up sick, so it's just as well, really. Really sick. As in, the sickest I've been in a decade. I took two legitimate, consecutive sick days. Ouch.

So we'll be back for the Cream Cruise in the spring or summer. And I hope back to the Cape, too.