It’s a destination we don’t hear a lot about yet a day trip to Te Puia o Whakaari /White Island must rate as one of the most unique adventures our country has to offer. What’s more, the Ngati Awa-led tour, which caters for dozens of international tourists as well as ‘locals’, is so well executed you’ll leave your boat at the end of day feeling proud to be a Kiwi.
White Island tours are a 5-5.5 hour round trip. There’s all the fun of heading out on a comfortable launch for the 45 minute journey to the island, and the very likely chance of spotting dolphins or whales on the way. Birders may like to pop their binoculars into their back pack to check out the sea birds encountered en route. Given the right conditions, passengers embark from their boat and are guided around the active volcano with the chance to observe its bright yellow sulphur vents, dramatic crater lake, and relics from the island’s historic mining operations. The return voyage tracks around the island and past the gannet colony perched back from tall sea cliffs.
To take a White Island tour, you’ll need, ideally, to get yourself to Whakatane (pick-ups are available from Rotorua or Tauranga but it does add significantly to the cost). Tours leave bright and early from the wharf at the north end of town so the best plan is to arrive the night before. Because tours can be cancelled at short notice due to weather conditions or volcanic activity, it pays to stay 2-3 nights in Whakatane in case your trip is postponed.
In summer, it’s advisable to book a week in advance. In winter, there are fewer tourists sight seeing so it’s usually possible to secure a booking just 2-3 days in advance. However, because weather conditions are less reliable in the off-season, check weather forecasts before booking, and be prepared to change dates if it looks as if the rain is setting.
Guides have the relaxed manner Kiwis are noted for yet they are highly professional and very knowledgeable about the island’s volcanic activity and history, as well as the sea mammals and birds encountered on the tour.
Not all guests are co-operative where health and safety is concerned. We admired the way guides discreetly requested compliance without ever making guests feel uncomfortable.
The tour is un-rushed so there’s plenty of time to take photos and ask questions.
Every little detail is taken care of – right down to guides carrying pockets full of sweets for guests to suck. The reason you’ll want to accept a sweet is that it helps prevent any coughing which may be caused from breathing in an occasional mouthful of sulphur-laden air.
The picnic lunch provided on the return trip is delicious, vegetarian friendly, and almost all packaging is recyclable.
White Island Cafe operates out of the same building as the booking office, and is open from 6.30am-4pm. What better way to start the tour than to breakfast while you wait to board. And when you return, the coffee and cake is waiting!