Whakaari, also known as White Island, is an active volcano 48km east of New Zealand’s north island. It’s been active for 150,000 years. Multiple attempts were made in the late 19th and early 20th century to mine sulfur on the island, but in 1914 it was abandoned when a mudflow killed all ten of the workers. They tried again in the 1930’s, but the effort wasn’t worth the reward and they shut it down for good. You can still see the outcropping of buildings, although the sulphur has severely corroded them. Today this magnificent island is used for guided tours and scientific research.

The full Maori name for the island is Te Puia o Whakaari, which means The Dramatic Volcano. A constantly smoking island is dramatic indeed. It was given the English name, White Island, by Captain James Cook in 1769 because the volcano’s consistent outflow of smoke made the island appear to be in a white cloud—he failed, however, to realize it was a volcano.

This volcano is one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes. It can be accessed by boat or by air, but if you want to set foot on land, go by sea. On your ecotour of the island, you’ll be outfitted with gas masks, because sulphuric acid is not so good on the lungs, and a hard hat. But the island’s vast array of colors are straight out of a painting, and aren’t to be missed.

How to get there

This roughly circular 2km diameter island is 48km (30 miles) off New Zealand’s north coast. The closest city to the island is Whakatane, but you can arrange a visit from any city in the Bay of Plenty.

What to consider

  • The island is privately owned, but can be visited by guided tour via boat, plane or helicopter.
  • You can arrange a walking tour from Whakatane, Rotorua and Tauranga—cities on the Bay of Plenty.
  • You can still see some of the buildings from the failed mine attempts.
  • The seas can get bumpy, so if you get seasick, come prepared.
  • Your guided tour should come with a lunch.
  • The tour will take you into the crater, one of the most accessible active volcanic craters in the world.
  • The boat trip is 1.5 hours each way and the entire tour will last 5-6 hours.