Friday, 3 June 2011

Scenic Cruising to White Island

White Island, active volcano, Bay of Plenty
The first day of the New Zealand/Australia cruise was glorious. Brilliant sunshine, calm seas and wonderful views of the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty coastlines.
  We passed close by Mercury Island and the pointed rocks of the Alderman Islands, named by Captain Cook after English officials. I hope when he sailed this way in 1769 to observe the transit of Mercury that the weather was as good and he appreciated the beauty of the area.
   The highlight of the day for me was when we sailed to White Island. I have been fascinated by the place since reading about it many years ago. How, in the inhospitable, dangerous environment of this active volcano, men mined for sulphur; how an eruption in 1914 killed ten miners but spared the camp cat which was found unharmed three weeks later. White Island last erupted in 2000.
   From a distance the island looked triangular, topped by a billowing plume of steam.  As we cruised closer, its jagged peaks, rocks and crater came into view. The only signs of life were gannets flying close to shore and landing on a sloping piece of ground where they have established a large colony.
  We spent several hours cruising backwards and forwards just off-shore. The 'Volendam's' captain, visiting the area on cruises since last October, said that this was the most active the volcano had been.
   It was all very dramatic. The hissing of the fumeroles. The sight of the collapsed sides of the crater seen through the shifting clouds of steam. The acrid smell of sulphur that lodged in the back of my throat. All these combined to make me very aware of the hugely destructive powers of nature.
  I was very glad that I had got so close to White Island. I was also very glad to leave.

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