The most meaningful stop for me on this study abroad trip was White Island. Granted waking up at five am was not exactly my cup of tea but it was completely worth it. After eating breakfast all 28 students boarded the boat, took a few pictures, and some of us fell asleep. However, when we arrived at White Island everyone was more than awake.
To get to the island they shipped us from the boat to the island on tiny rafts that fit about ten people; there had to be four trips to get everyone across. From the boat it was easy to see how spectacular the island was. The first thing that was noticed as we approached the island was the pungent smell of sulfur. Although many students dislike it, I appreciate it because I know that where there's that smell, there is some type of geologic activity. We began our tour of the island however I was so fascinated by everything it had to offer I often fell slightly behind, although one of the Kiwi tour guides made sure I stayed with the group. We were informed to stay strictly to the path because many of the small mounds present just off the path were dangerous to walk on, and they did not want us falling through!
The island had so much to see both geologically and biologically. There were streams that flowed around the island that were calcium sulfate rich, giving them a very milky appearance. Another student and I even think we saw potential microbes in one! I also discovered some crystallized sulfur, a bright yellow mineral with that strong smell. As we approached the crater itself we stopped at a massive fumarole, spitting out hot gases; it made an unearthly sound. The crater itself was an incredible sight. It was filled with a bright neon green/yellow liquid that had a high concentration of sulfuric acid; nothing anyone would want to swim in. Steam was rising out of the lake within the crater and it felt as though we were on a different planet. We were not allowed to get to close however because the rocks around the crater were unstable.
After leaving the crater we ventured to a different part of the island and saw small "mud volcanoes". These were small pots of mud that mix with the liquid present and begin to boil and bubble; some mud even went flying out and landed on my hand, but it wasn't too hot. They then led us to the old sulfur factory that was once present on the island; the workers didn't realize they were on an active volcano and when it decided to erupt, they were toast. The remains of the factory were an incredible sight; rusted walls, gears, and other kinds of machinery. The tour guides allowed us to wander for a few minutes but then instructed us that we needed to leave, the time limit was strict. The volcano last erupted in 2000, and on average it usually erupts every 10 years…
The ride back was especially enjoyable; they allowed us to jump off the boat and swim around. After this they fed us lunch and we were on our way back. On the ride back however we stopped a few times because of the aquatic life that was close to us. We spotted a dorsal fin swimming in waters adjacent to our vessel and were told it appeared to be a hammerhead shark. Then, we had almost 30 dolphins surround us, even a mother and baby! They clearly wanted to play so the captain began driving the boat and the dolphins all kept up; swimming around us, trying to keep up, and doing tricks along the way.
The trip to White Island was spectacular and so far has been the favorite part of my study abroad trip. Being on an active volcano with so much power makes you feel incredibly small. As a geology major interested in pursuing study in volcanology, it was the perfect place to visit! We will be hiking the Tongariro Crossing in just three days and I am very much looking forward to that experience as well.