White Island (Whakaari) lies 49km offshore from Whakatane and is one of the world’s most accessible volcanos. Most of this geological giant lies underneath the water but the top 321m sticks out above the ocean, forming a circular island that’s approximately 2km wide.
Its Maori name, Whakaari, means “the dramatic volcano”. It was subsequently named White Island by Captain James Cook during his 1769 voyage because it always appeared to be covered in cloud.
On a clear day you can still see billowing clouds of steam rising out of White Island’s vent from all along the Eastern Bay of Plenty’s coastline. But you need to get up close to truly experience this force of nature.
Guided tours are available seven days a week from Whakatane. Relax onboard a luxury launch or experience the thrill of a short helicopter ride out to White Island where you’ll spend up to two hours exploring the inner crater on foot and learning about its geological history.
Gas masks and hard hats are provided as this active volcano is still very much alive. Its seismic activity is closely monitored although the island is usually on an alert level rating of 1 or 2 on a scale from 0 to 5.
The ever-present sulphur here has stained the rock surface vivid hues of yellow and orange. You’ll be guided around roaring steam vents, bubbling mud pits, hot volcanic streams and a lake of steaming acid so make sure you have your camera ready. You can also examine the remains of a sulphur mining factory which was abandoned in the 1930s but has survived multiple eruptions since.
Tours to White Island are best suited to people aged 8 and over who are capable of walking on an uneven surface for up to two hours. You’ll need fully-enclosed footwear for this trip (walking or tramping boots are recommended, or shoes with a good grip). No jandals or sandals are allowed.
There are no facilities onshore so bring a water bottle, sunscreen and appropriate clothing with you and make use of the toilets onboard your tour boat before you disembark.
This marine volcano is one of the Bay of Plenty’s most popular tourist attractions. Experience its powerful presence for yourself.