Hiking an Active Volcano: New Zealand - Poplar Travels
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Sep 10 2014

Hiking an Active Volcano: New Zealand

I gazed into the massive crater of the White Island volcano, holding my camera in one hand, trying to capture the wisps of steam and smoke creeping up the cliff side. In the other hand I held my gas mask tight against my face as a cloud of fumes engulfed me. When the cloud had passed, the chaotic beauty of white island’s moonscape was fully exposed.

White Island

In my recent travels to the North Island of New Zealand, my sister and I were looking to have an unique and exciting trip. With this in mind, we decided to tour the only active marine volcano in the country. The volcano is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 years old and is one of the most easily accessible volcanos on earth.

There used to be a sulfur mine on the island, but in 1914 a massive landslide destroyed the operation and tragically killed all the workers. It is safe to say that nothing is meant to live on White Island.

There are a few ways to see the island. You can book a small plane or helicopter to fly you over the island for some great aerial views, or if you want to get up close and personal you can take a boat out to the island and walk around on the active volcano.

White Island

We wanted to get as close as possible, so we decided to take the boat trip and trek on foot. White Island Tours is one of only four licensed tour companies that charter guests out to the island and offer guided tours of the volcano and the remains of the sulfur mine on the island. The owners of White Island Tours are the official guardians of the island volcano, so we figured that we would get the most out of our trip if we chose them. The entire trip takes about six hours, includes lunch and offers plenty of chances to see dolphins on the way out and back.

The island itself was magnificent, with yellow sulfur gleaming all over the landscape and jets of steam escaping from cracks in the ground. All visitors are given gas masks to wear around the crater and steam vents (the steam can be irritating to breath in). Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, answered all of our questions and was keen to show us the best photo locations. We were able to spend around two hours hiking on the island.

If you are ever planning to travel to the North Island of New Zealand, I recommend that you tour the active volcano of White Island. It is a truly unique experience to be able to hike on the volcano and travel to the very edge of the crater.


Quick tips:

  • The tour is completely safe, gas masks are provided so that you can breath comfortably near the crater.
  • The boat ride can be a little choppy, but if you stay on the lower deck of the boat then the movements are less pronounced.
  • The boat ride is about 80 minutes each way, so be sure to bring a book or another form of entertainment for the ride.
  • Read more about the island and tour details here.


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Eric left Washington, D.C. to travel the world starting with Chiang Mai, Thailand. He enjoys peaty scotch, long walks on the beach (or up mountains) and most sports or activities with potential risk of injury or death.

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