Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Jon and Noeline our POP site hosts setting off on a fishing...

A view at Ohope

Whale Island from Ohope

Astatue of Waurika at Whakatane

Arriving at White Island

A view on White Island

White Island

yellow hats and gas masks

White Island

Steam coming out of our ears

Crater Lake

White Island

The old sulpher mine on White Island

Returning to the boat

A view from the lunch spot

Back at Whakatane

Sylvia’s Comments

We woke to another lovely morning with some great views out over the Bay of Plenty and Whale and White Island’s. Before leaving, Jon had given us directions to an unusual waterfall at Kawerau that he said was worth a visit. It is on the road between Whakatane and Rotorura, two places we have yet to visit. Jon and Noeline were off on a fishing trip and we followed them off the property, with we me acting as the gatekeeper. Our van needed some supplies, both fuel and food so a stop was made in the town.

The price of fuel has been increasing steadily since we arrived here, when we first arrived we were paying about 62p a litre, now it is 83p a litre. We have been hearing from the UK that it is getting quite expensive over there as well. Food prices also have been rising, especially the cost of dairy produce and cheese is fast becoming a luxury item in food baskets. Fruit and veg, especially locally grown produce, is still good value and a 1kg bag of kiwi fruit costs 80p.

Once stocked up we were on our way driving along the coastal road on SH 2. Turning off the main highway and drove around Ohiwa Harbour to Port Ohope. We took the road along the beach front to the end and stopped for lunch overlooking a lovely golden beach. There are a number of large houses for sale along this road and all looked well out of our price range. I suppose if we did by one we would get lots of you all coming for a holiday which would mean some hard work for us, so perhaps just as well. After our lunch we continued our drive to Whakatane, most of you out there will not be able to pronounce this name correctly, wh is sounded ‘fu’ and that is as far as I am going.

Driving into the town we found somewhere to park and went to book a trip to White Island, we will get a phone call this evening to confirm the trip will take place tomorrow. We then we for a walk around the town centre and found the bag shop, where a lady we had met on our trip at Havelock works. We called in to say hello as we had promised then went in search of our POP site for tonight at Coastal Caravans, the Jayco dealers. Since having the self containment work done on our van we have been experiencing the grey water coming up in the shower area on occasions. This means we are having to empty our tanks roughly every two days and as we have a self containment certificate which allows us to bush camp for five days something is wrong. The Jayco dealers arranged to fix this problem, along with some other work, for us tomorrow and we have to bring it in for 8am, an easy task when we are camped in the car park.

Before returning to our van we had a look at the new Jayco model and one that that Costal Caravans have built themselves. Now being motorhome experts we could look at the good points and those we felt are not so good in both vans. It is interesting to see what improvements Jayco have made to the newer models. Back in our home we made tea and settled down for the evening. A phone call a 7 pm told us the trip tomorrow is on and we have to be at the booking office for 9.15 am.

The owner at Jayco gave us a lift down to the boat and said for us to phone him on our return and we would be collected. What nice people they are. Everyone that had recommended the trip had told us that they go to the island on a big boat, but the one we were getting on was a small boat. It seems the big one is away for winter maintenance and safety inspections. I got myself at the back of the boat and off we went.

Whakaari or White Island is NZ’s most active volcano 31 mile off the coast of Whakatane. It is a small island formed by three separate volcanic cones, all of different ages. Erosion has worn down the two older cones and the youngest one, which rose up between the two older ones, now occupies the centre of the island. Hot water and steam pour from vents over most of the crater floor and temperatures of 600 C to 800 C have been recorded. On our way out of the harbour we passed the statue of Waurika. The Maori warrior Toroa and his family sailed into the estuary in a huge ocean going waka the Mataatua. He anchored the boat and the men went to greet local leaders, leaving the women with the canoe. As the tide turned, the waka drifted out to sea. Toroa’s daughter, Wairaka cried out “E! Kia whakatane au I ahau!”(Let me act as a man) and breaking the Maori tapu that women never steer a waka ,she took the paddle and steered the boat safely to the shore. The statute stands at the harbour mouth in commemoration of her brave deed and for bestowing the name on the town.

Our boat journey to the island will take about ninety minutes and took us past Whale Island, another volcanic island which is shaped like a whale, and along its shores are springs which can reach up to 93 C. The island was settled by Maori people long before Captain Cook arrived here in 1769. In 1829 there was a Maori massacre of sailors from the trading vessel Haweis while it was anchored at Sulphur bay. In the 1840’s it passed into European ownership and has remained privately owned since then. Since1965 it has been a protected wild life refuge and is administered by DOC (Dept of Conservation). This protection means landing on the island is restricted and there are only six trips to the island each year over the Christmas period. Looks like we have missed it.

Once we were out on the sea the staff served ‘sea you soon soup’, use your imagination on that one. I declined it and was glad to have done so when people around me were not well. Both myself and my breakfast made it to the island only to discover that there is no jetty, so we had to transfer to small boats. This was not an easy feat and the driver of the small boat had to make several of trips to get us all there. In rough weather they have to take the boat round to another bay and it can take up to an hour to get everyone on to the island. Before leaving the boat we had to don our safety gear of a hard hat and a gas mask, two very sexy little numbers. The gas mask was for use if we required it and I used it a couple of times when in the very sulphurous areas. Once out of the little boat we had to scramble over the rocks to reach the small beach.

We had two guides to show us around the island, one leading and giving us the information, the second guide brought up the rear to ensure none of us fell down any holes or craters without it being noted. We spent 2 hours walking around the island and learning about this fascinating place. The volcano last erupted in 2000 and it does not spew out lava, instead it sends out rock bombs with some measuring the size of a small car. Our trip took us through the debris from the last eruption. It was amazing to walk through this dynamic volcano, complete with hissing and steaming going on all around us. We walked to the edge of the crater rim and, when the steam allowed, looked down on what we thought was a lake. Our guide informed us that it was pure acid and to mind our footing as if we slipped in it was a horrible death, but it would be quick one. At that, everyone appeared to take a step back.

Our tour ended at the sulphur mines. Men used to live out here in the 1930’s and mine the sulphur. One night the supply boat came out to the island and realised that something was wrong when none of the miners responded to his signals. Next morning they went onto the island and saw for themselves the devastation caused by a landslide. Nothing of the camp or the mines remained, it had all been pushed out to sea by the rocks. There was only one survivor, a small kitten, which was rescued and went onto lead a long and happy life. Surprisingly more miners returned to continue working on the island for a few more years, but the camp was built further around the bay. This necessitated a rowing boat trip around the headland or on bad days a walk over a cliff on a very narrow path, to get to work. It seems strange to think anyone would want to work here but it was in the depression years and any job was probably better than none.

White Island is privately owned and is well monitored by the scientists, there are two web cameras pointed at the crater and pictures are beamed back over the internet. They were pointed out to us and as I went past I gave a wave, sorry you will not be able to spot me as the pictures are changed every 12 hours, ( but I was the one in the yellow hat). If you wish to have a look at White Island go to It was now time to return to the main boat and with a risen tide getting on the small inflatable was even more fun. One lady fell in the bottom of the inflatable and decided to stay where she was till we reached the boat. Once we were all on board we were taken around to a smaller bay ( the one they use to land people on rough days) where we had a picnic lunch before our journey home. Before leaving the island our captain took us around the bay to see where the second mine camp was built. In the season the boat also goes along the coast to the gannet colony nesting area, but as they have now all left we missed that part out. It is surprising that any creature would want to live on a volcano but gannets nest at one side of the island and sooty shearwaters nest on the other. We were also told it is a great place for fishing and that big king fish can be caught in the area.

Our journey back was less rough than on the way out but I was still glad to get my feet on terra firma once more. Now feeling hungry I indulged in a nice big piece of cake and a coffee.

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