No self-respecting traveller would pass up the opportunity to set foot on a permanently erupting volcano. And so it is that we find ourselves in another chopper heading out across The Bay of Plenty (meaning: Full of Fish) to White Island or Whakaari, a handsome little cone that’s been busy belching for the past 150,000 years. Now I’ve had a few good lunches but still, that’s seriously impressive.
Approaching from the skies, it’s satisfyingly smoky and more than a little Bond lair-esque. James would’ve had to disguise his arrival slightly more than we did, obnoxiously buzzing a column of tourists who’d arrived by boat and most likely didn’t appreciate reminding that we would be back at the mainland and onto our first frothy pint before they’d even re-embarked. Someone’s got to do it.
White Island was so named by Captain Cook who happened upon it in the late 1700s, sailing close enough to spot the colour (either because of the white plumes of sulphurous gas or because it was covered in white seagull shit) but not close enough to notice it was a very volcano-y shaped volcano. Great sailor, terrible eyesight.
You’re given hard hats and gas masks on exiting the chopper and at first it’s all great fun, mugging for the camera and so forth. Then you get up close with the fart-gas and shit gets real. It’s actually really very acrid and even though the helicopter pilot assures us it’s great for the skin and overall constitution (and come to think of it, he does look about 17), we don’t spend too long testing the theory. I do, however, make a mental note to stash some in my camera bag to bring home and slather on my crow’s feet.
It’s meant to taste like sherbet so naturally we all have a dib dab but it’s every bit as foul as it smells and my plan for a line of tonics and face cream starts to lose some of it’s appeal. We get back in the chopper and circle the rock a few times, making sure that the guys on the boat see us (when you’ve shelled out this much you’ve gotta milk it).
The sheer Boys Own madcappery of a day trip to a live volcano will – I bet – be one thing the boys will kick themselves they missed, when we look back on this adventure in years to come (they were too young to come… noxious gas levels too high for little lungs). But when we get back to the hotel, they’re utterly un-phased, sitting together on the rug, getting stuck into a heavily customised Lego helicopter.