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Whakaari (White) Island
With its billowing plumes of steam, the active volcano of Whakaari (White) Island makes for an awesome geothermal experience. Forty-nine kilometers (29 mi) off the coast of Whakatane, the island is New Zealand's only active marine volcano—and New Zealand's most active volcano overall. Although the last major eruption was in 2000, steam issues continuously from the many fumeroles (vents) and from the central crater, and the area reeks of sulfur. The island itself is eerie but exquisite, with fluorescent sulfuric crystal formations and boiling mud pools.
Helicopters fly to the island from Tauranga and Rotorua; however, the least expensive way to see the island is by boat. As a bonus, you might see dolphins, seals, and even a whale en route.
East Bay Aviation. East Bay Aviation has a four-seater aircraft that flies over the island's crater; one hour trips cost $210. 07/308-7760.
Vulcan Helicopters. Vulcan Helicopters fly from both Whakatane and Tauranga and land on the island's only (and very) active marine volcano in New Zealand. From Whakatane you pay $550 per person (minimum of two); the flight each way is 30 minutes and you get an hour on the island. From Tauranga it's a bit longer flight and costs $870 per person (minumum two). 0800/804-354. www.vulcanheli.co.nz.
White Island Tours. Peter and Jenny Tait, the official guardians of White Island, operate White Island Tours. Upon arrival, you are issued a hard hat and gas mask (yes, it can be necessary because of the sulphur fumes) and taken for a walk around the volcano and through the remains of a sulphur mine. The cost is $185 and includes morning tea and lunch. It's 49 km (30 mi) off the coast of Whakatane. The boat trip is two hours each way (look for dolphins) and you spend two hours on the island. Trips run daily, weather permitting and you'll leave Whakatane about 9:15 am (give or take a bit, depending on the tides). The main trip is not suitable for small children—check with the tour operators for their family-friendly tours. www.whiteisland.co.nz.
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