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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.

White Island Flights. Take a close look at this steaming island volcano from a safe distance! This company flies fixed-wing aircrafts to and over the island and its crater (they can't land); one hour trips cost $249. 07/308–7760 or 0800/944–834. www. whiteislandflights.co.nz.

Frontier Helicopters. The only helicopter company licenced to land on this very active marine volcano, Frontier Helicopters fly from Whakatane; the flight each way is 30 minutes and you get a one hour guided tour on the island. Cost is $650 per person (minimum of two). Bookings essential. 0800/804–354. www.frontierhelicopters.co.nz.

White Island Tours. Peter and Jenny Tait, the official guardians of White Island, operate White Island Tours. En route to the island you will be issued with a hard hat and gas mask (yes, these 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 $199 and includes morning tea and lunch. The island is 49 km (30 mi) off the coast of Whakatane, the boat trip is about 80 minutes 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). Check in is at White Island Rendezvous - the tour office on The Strand. The main trip is not suitable for small children—check with the tour operators for their family-friendly tours. The island remains in a fluctuating state of volcanic alert, Peter and Jenny have been running tours for more than two decades and are experienced in dealing with varying activity levels. 15 The Strand East, Whakatane. 09/308-9588; 0800/733-529 Freephone in New Zealand. www.whiteisland.co.nz.

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