White Island – One of the Best Holiday Destinations in New Zealand with Ton of Dive Spots!
Sitting comfortably and serene in the azure waters of the Bay of Plenty, you would never guess that beneath the deceptively calm and clear facade of this majestic island lies a 150,000 year old active volcano! White Island – also known as Te Puia o Whakaari or simply “Whakaari” – is a circular piece of paradise off the coast of New Zealand, and the perfect place to go diving!
Imagine yourself submerging into the cool blue waters of the Bay of Plenty, and experiencing all of the wonders of the marine life and the underwater volcanic terrain beneath the sea. Explore the secrets this island keeps hidden underwater on its uninhabited land. White Island has had approximately thirty-five small to moderate eruptions that have been recorded since 1826. The Maori name for this amazing volcanic place surrounded by sea is ‘Te Puia o Whakaari’, which translates to ‘the dramatic volcano’.
White Island is basically a circular shape, and about two whole kilometres in diameter. The island rises to the sky and pulls itself up to its full height at 321 metres above sea level. The trick is, all you’re seeing is the the peak of a much larger submarine mountain – the main vent of this volcano is below sea level but shielded from the ocean by very tall walls of the crater.
You can travel to White Island on a helicopter tour, through Vulcan Helicopters – they can be contacted at 64 7 308
4188. Helicopter voyages to White Island depart from Whakatane Airport and are available 7 days a week – of course, they are weather dependent. Departure times for the helicopter tours are usually 10 am or 12:30 pm, but are flexible. The tour time is about 2 and a half hours, with just over 1 hour of that time spent on the island. Prices are about $435 per person. The major bonus of taking the helicopter tour is the speed at which you can arrive to the island and home again, this is great for anyone who wants to see White Island but doesn’t have an entire day to spend getting to the destination and back again. Not only that but the incredible view of the island from high in the sky is breathtaking!
White Island Tours will bring you to White Island via boat. Taking the boat there has its pros and its cons – and we’ll get the cons out of the way first: It takes longer, and it means you’ll end up either having to make your visit short (the trip there and back is three hours each way, taking up six hours of your day) or staying on a liveaboard and visiting the island and surrounding waters over a period of days. Now, the latter option actually doesn’t seem like much of a “con” now, does it? It’s only a drawback if you have time or budget constraints that aren’t allowing you to be able to take multiple days of island exploration into consideration.
The pros to visiting White Island by boat? It’s cheaper than the helicopter by far, there’s no doubt about that! Also one of the number one plusses to taking the boat – enjoying the journey up close and personal! Not only will you have the gorgeous scenery that spreads out around you, but if you’re lucky you’ll get to see the dolphins, whales and other marine life that make the waters in the Bay of Plenty their home. White Island Tours are the experts who have been bringing visitors to the extraordinary island for the last quarter of a century, and is a registered adventure activity provider in New Zealand.
The departure point when traveling by boat to White Island is Whakatane. The riverside New Zealand town is settled some ninety minutes from the main centres of Rotorua and Tauranga – or a four hour trip from the city of Auckland.
Join a group aboard Peejay for a six hour tour to White Island, and witness an ever-changing landscape of fumaroles, the steaming acid lake, lava bombs, crystals, and hot bubbling mud. Daily tours depart to the island, weather permitting, and you’ll need to book in advance. They can be contacted at 07 306 2030.
Experienced tour guides from White Island tours will bring you on a two hour exploration of White Island’s inner crater, along with an informative commentary on the geology of the island and the history behind the island’s failed sulphur mining attempts. Featured highlights include the island’s volcanic and geothermal attractions, and you’ll get to see the remains of the sulphur factory, abandoned since the 1930s and have stood on the island through multiple eruptions since.
Once you come back aboard the PeeJay, enjoy a swim from the boat (time permitted) before settling down for a light packed lunch which is recommended to be best enjoyed while viewing the outer walls of the island where Pohutukawa forests tower over you, and large Australasian Gannet colonies go about their business.
The journey home from White Island by PeeJay quite often makes way for opportunities to enjoy some dolphin and whale spotting time. Keep an eye out for other marine life too.The tour operator holds the necessary government permits to interact with these Bay of Plenty animals, and it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
What to Bring
- A pair of fully enclosed shoes – closed toe – with good grip
- A warm waterproof jacket
- Your own water bottle and water
- Your camera, any necessary camera gear or batteries
- Swimming attire is optional in the summer season
What is Included
- Top quality cruising aboard purpose-built safe vessels
- Professional and experienced boat crew and educated tour guides
- 5 – 2 hours of fully guided touring of the White Island’s inner crater region of the island
- A light packed lunch and a bottle of mineral water
- Safety gear while on the island – a gas mask and a hard hat
- Permit to land on the island
- Department of Conservation permit to spend time with any marine mammals that you may encounter
Chances are, you aren’t going to want to visit White Island without taking advantage of the extremely fascinating diving opportunities this volcanic New Zealand island has to offer – if that’s your cup of tea then hold onto your scuba mask – there are many options to go diving White Island.
One of these options is SeaTrek, who can be contacted at 027 496 9973. Choose to tour White Island with SeaTrek for two nights and two days. and you’ll be signing up for an exceptional experience – one of the most ultimate dive adventures New Zealand has to offer! The tour leaves Tauranga at roughly 5:30 pm and arrives at White Island around 11:30 pm, where it anchors for the night. The following morning it’s up and at ‘em at 7 am for a breakfast onboard and then you’ll be off diving in the crystal waters.
There are some truly spectacular dive spots around White Island and the Volkner Rocks, such as Homestead Reef (one of New Zealand’s top ten dive sites), Laison’s Reef, and many more. Many of these dive spots can be covered on your first day diving White Island.
At the end of a long day of exploring the waters around White Island, you’ll find yourself brought into a calm anchorage and you’ll be able to settle down to dinner, a relaxing drink, or gear up again for a thrilling night dive.
Around 7 am the following day you will be up again for breakfast and then back into the waters for yet another beautiful diving experience around White Island. After the first or second dive, depending on the time, you will then begin your return journey back to Tauranga which you will be able to break up with a dive at Astrolabe Reef – or visit the seal colony at Plate Island. You’ll get back into Tauranga at around 5:30 pm.
The Island is pretty much on a consistent eruption alert level, albeit a very low one. The volcanic activity is
constantly being monitored by volcanologists from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences. Survey pegs, magnetometers and seismographic equipment to detect early earthquake activity via radio have been installed on the island’s craters, along with visual surveillance cameras. In March of 2000, the main crater gave way to three small vents which started sending ash into the air, and covering the island in fine grey powdery dust. Another eruption later that year doused the island with mud and scoria, and a brand new crater made an appearance. For the most part, the volcanic activity is limited to steaming fumaroles and boiling hot mud. Although White Island is a privately owned destination, this place is a scenic reserve that can be accessed by launch or helicopter. Starting from Whakatane, Rotorua and Tauranga you can arrange a walking tour of the island, which will bring your and your group into the enormous circular main crater along terrain that makes you feel as though you’re walking on the lunar surface. Hard hats and gas masks are provided to the guests on the tour – it’s a White Island experience you won’t want to miss!
One of the more unpredictable sights on White Island is what remains of a sulphur mining operation from years ago. There had been attempts to mine sulphur on White Island, however the mining industry screeched to a sudden halt in September 1914, when a mudslide wiped out the operation and tragically, all of the workers. The miners disappeared amongst the muck without trace, leaving behind the camp cat, named Peter the Great, who survived. Seeing the remains of this mining operation can stir up some eerie feelings indeed, knowing the fate that took place here over one hundred years ago. Explore the area with caution, it’s still a rugged and uninhabited island and you will be required to wear safety gear. The adventure and the learning experience well worth the visit for those who are up to it! Keep in mind that there are no resting areas, or facilities on the island at all, and you will be on your feet for more than an hour so be prepared before you step foot onto the island.
In addition to the fascinating crater walks and the extraordinary scuba diving fun, you can also plan for some spearfishing around White Island. Spearfishing is quickly becoming one of New Zealand’s most popular water sports. White Island is a good spearfishing spot for Yellowtail and Kingfish in early October or November through to late March or early May (depending on the year) with Musa Freediving – contact them at 64 7 308 0922.
Visibility is usually best between late December until May, ranging from twenty to forty metres. When hiring a charter boat fishing operator, the rule is one kingfish per diver per day. On a good day every diver will get themselves a kingfish before noon. If you have your yellowtail there are still a number of species left to hunt at White Island such as:
- Golden Snapper
- Pink and Blue Maomao
- Blue Moki
- Red Pigfish
There’s even the occasional Marlin that has been spotted but never caught!
For a White Island spearfishing day trip, divers meet up the night before and stay the night at the tour operation house, and have breakfast provided in the morning before departing. The tour starts the day at 5:30 am gets you out on the water by 6:30 am.
The thirty nautical mile boat ride to White Island is about an hour long trip, and you’ll be sure to be in the water by 8:00 am ready to go! Spend your day freediving, with lunch included. The tour aims to return to the dock just before 5 pm, where you’ll be able to clean and pack the dive gear, and prepare and bag your catch of the day!
Visit the New Zealand destinations category to learn more about other places to visit in New Zealand!