White Island

White Island (Maori: Whakaari) is an uninhabited active volcanic island off the coast of Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand.

White Island


Whakaari/White Island is the only active marine volcano near New Zealand's main islands. It is situated 48 kilometres off the east coast of the North Island, in the Bay of Plenty. The nearest mainland towns are Whakatane and Tauranga. The island is roughly circular and about 2 km in diameter. White Island is around 100,000 to 200,000 years old. Roughly two thirds of the island is hidden below sea level. There are three distinct craters, only one of which is active. It hosts a small crater lake.

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.

Sulphur was mined on Whakaari in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but mining was abandoned after a landslide and lahar in 1914 killed all the workers. Mining resumed in the 1920s and '30s, and the remains of the buildings can still be seen, much corroded by the sulphuric gases.

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, along with visual surveillance cameras. Visitors have been known to place small objects in front of the crater webcam, with a small, pink toy dinosaur the star. Hourly updates can be seen on two different GeoNet webcams.

The sulphuric fumes and acidic environment ensure that there is very little vegetation within the crater. Eruptions in 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 filled to became a lake. When it is not too active it is possible to get up close to yellow and white sulphur crystal formations and bubbling fumaroles capped with steam.

The island was bought by George Raymond Buttle in 1936 and is now owned by the Buttle Family Trust. It was declared a private scenic reserve in 1953. In 1997 the Buttles appointed Peter and Jenny Tait, the owners of White Island Tours, as the official guardians of the island.

Get in

Visitors approaching the wharf from a White Island Tours boat

Whakaari is easily accessible through any of the four authorized tourist operators. As it is a private scenic reserve, visitors can land only with permission and must not disturb or remove anything.

By boat

By plane


Remains of sulphur mine

Stay safe

This is an active volcano with toxic fumes, hot gases and corrosive chemicals. 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 them. First aid and safety equipment is provided. Wear fully-enclosed shoes with good grip - not sandals or jandals.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, March 14, 2014. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.