Whakaari/White Island is New Zealand's only active marine volcano. It is situated 48 kilometres from the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty. The nearest mainland towns are Whakatane and Tauranga. The island is roughly circular, about 2km in diameter. White Island is approx. 100,000 to 200,000 years old. Approx. two thirds of the island is below sea level. There are three distinct craters, only one of which is active and most visible. The other two are extinct.
The full Maori name for the island is 'Te Puia o Whakaari' meaning literally: 'The Dramatic Volcano.' Captain Cook named it White Island in 1769 as he saw a large white cloud, not realising that it was steam derived from volcanic activity.
An attempt was made in the early 1900s to mine sulphur from Whakaari but it was abandoned. The remains of the buildings can still be seen, much corroded by the sulphuric gasses.
The volcanic activity is constantly monitored by volcanologists from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences. Survey pegs, magnetometers and seismographic equipment for early earthquake warnings via radio have been installed on the crater walls and also visual surveillance cameras. Visitors have been known to place small objects in front of the crater web-cam. A small, pink toy dinosaur has been the star recently. Hourly updates can be seen on two different GeoNet web-cams.
The sulphur fumes and acidic environment ensures that there is very little vegetation. Eruptions between 1981-83 altered much of the island’s landscape and decimated the extensive pohutukawa forest on the outside of the main crater wall. The crater that formed then has now filled to became a lake. Now it is not so active it is possible to get up close to yellow and white sulphur crystal formations and bubbling fumaroles capped with steam.
Whakaari is easily accessible through the authorized tourist operators. As it is a private scenic reserve, visitors can land only with permission and must not disturb or remove anything.
On foot. Wear suitable footwear. No sandals or jandals. Bring something warm and something waterproof.
Remember this is an active volcano. Aside from toxic fumes there are also hot gases and corrosive chemicals present. The tour operators will have checked the activity alert level but if you are concerned, consult the experienced guide. Do not go anywhere on the island without your activity and movements being monitored by them. First aid and safety equipment is provided.