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.

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