White Island (Whakaari) with the Volkner rocks in the background - March 2017


  Sunset Time

In February 2017 Myrna and myself went for a two week trip to New Zealand.

Myrna had not been to NZ before, so I made a short itinerary - Auckland, Tauranga/Mt Maunganui, Whakatane, Rotorua, Taupo, Hobbiton and the Waitomo Caves.

This is a personal, non-commercial web-site. I have created several websites, but made this one to cover additional items, such as a short trip to New Zealand.

It can be noted that I use the "nom de foto" 'David de la Hyde'.

On searching for images on White Island I have come across many interesting web pages, and my only justification for doing this web site is as a hobby activity in my old age. (Antidote for possible future Dementia?)

Finally I thank Luke Lamont (Pilot/Guide) of Frontier Helicopters for positioning us for aerial shots of White Island.

Reference: White Island a Place of Hope and Despair by Stephanie Smith. (http://tauranga.kete.net.nz/tauranga_local_history/topics/show/1149-white-island-a-place-of-hope-and-despair-by-stephanie-smith)


Map of White Island
Remains of 1922 - 1923 Factory Buildings at White Island

In 1874, Wilson, a judge at the Native Land Court, acquired a part-share of the island and began to mine small amounts of sulphur which was exported to Sydney. In 1883, another Aucklander named Johnson joined Wilson in established the "NZ Manure and Chemical Company".

Wilson bought land at Sulphur Point in Tauranga (on the mainland) upon which a factory was built for producing sulphuric acid. Production was however abandoned in the wake of the 1886 Tarawera eruption which coated the island with a 2-3 cm thick layer of ash and raised fears that an eruption would occur at W.I.

In 1898 production of sulphur ore was resumed and over a period of 4 years a total of over 5000 Tonnes was mined. After this, the best deposits were exhausted and the operation became uneconomical and was closed down.

Peter the Great

In 1913, Brown and Mercer (UK with connections to Vancouver, Canada) purchased the island and established "The White Island Sulphur Co. of Vancouver".

A boiler house with several retorts was erected on the island. Retorts are small ovens in which the sulphur ore is heated in order to extract sulphur from it. The operation was complicated. The retorts corroded unexpectedly fast and one worker was killed when a retort exploded. Also, the most readily accessible sulphur deposits had already been mined, so lakes on the crater floor were drained to access further deposits.

In September 1914, disaster struck when the SW flank of the crater wall collapsed and the ensuing debris avalanche/lahar buried 11 mine workers and the mine infrastructure. Repeated search efforts found no trace of either. The event must have happened between the supply ship visits on 17th and 25th September.

Reference: White Island (Whakaari) Volcano (http://www.photovolcanica.com/VolcanoInfo/White%20Island/White%20Island.html)

The following website has links to the tour operators and to interesting material on White Island.

Whakaari/White Island

It is authored by Andrew Buttle the grandson of George Raymond Buttle who bought the island in 1936. In particular I enjoyed viewing some videos from the FILM section.

White Island, or as the Maori called it, Whakaari, is a volcano located on an island approx. 50 km of the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand in the Bay of Plenty. White Island is an andesite stratovolcano. The lava flowing from stratovolcanoes typically cools and hardens before spreading far due to high viscosity.

Although it is said to have been active for the last 150,000 years it is 321 meters above sea level and about 2km wide. It rises 1600 meters above the sea floor and this makes it the largest active volcanic structure in New Zealand.

Volckner Rocks, 5km NNW of the island are a further visible part of the complex and are considered to be the remains of a large lava dome.

Heavy machinery at White Island - circa 1928
White Island Sulphur Factory circa 1930
Crater Lake at White Island before 1914 eruption.

Whether the flank failure was related to an eruptive event (e.g. a phreatic eruption) and to what extent (if any) the mining operation in the crater played a role is not known. Apparently, explosions were heard on the mainland, and an increased smell of sulphur was reported. Mounds left by the collapse event are still visible and mark the locations of larger rocks from the flank.

For Download: "Disaster at White Island"
from: Bay of Plenty Times - 21 September 1914
     Disaster at White Island - PDF document (22 kB)

White Island - Looking down into the crater
Myrna at the main vent - White Island - March 2017
A view of the floor in the main vent - White Island 2017
Touring Group in crater of White Island - March 2017
Tour Guide's Explanation
White Island sulphur fumeroles
White Island fumeroles
Wharf at Crater Bay - October 2016 - White Island
People by main vent at White Island
Factory ruins at Crater Bay - White Island
Tour group at the edge of the main vent - White Island
Group at a sulphur fumerole at White Island
Wharf at Crater Bay - White Island
White Island Helicopter
Interior of derelect factory - White Island
Inside sulphur factory ruins - White Island
Derelict sulphur refining retort at White Island

"Sulphur can be bought in two different forms, roll sulphur and flowers of sulphur. The two forms are prepared in the same operation. This begins with the extraction of sulphur from the rocky material with which it is associated. The ore is heaped in piles and heated without access of air, until the sulphur melts and thus separates from the rock.

The sulphur is then further purified by heating it in iron vessels (retorts) without access of air, until it is vaporized. the vapor is led into brick-lined rooms. A part of the gas is suddenly cooled and is deposited as a fine powder on the sides of the room. The form is known as flowers of sulphur.

Most of the sulphur vapor condenses in the liquid form, and flows down to the outlet of the condensing chamber. It is then run into wooden moulds, where it solidifies into cylindrical-shaped rods about an inch and a half in diameter. This form is called roll sulphur or brimstone. Flowers of sulphur differ slightly in chemical properties from roll sulphur." - Brownlee 1907 - First Principles of Chemistry (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1907) p. 148

Supher refining
Dingies returning to tour boat at White Island
David and Luke at the Frontier Helicopter helipad
View towards Mt Maunganui from the sulphur works ruins
White Island Active Crater - March 2017


Situated off the coast of Whakatane, the Maori name for the island is 'Te Puia o Whakaari', which means 'the dramatic volcano'.

White Island erupting 9th. Dec. 2019

A large eruption occurred at 14:11 (local time) on 9 December 2019, which resulted in fourteen fatalities and dozens of injured, most receiving severe burns. Forty-seven people were on the island when it erupted, all tour participants or staff. A second eruption closely followed the first.

Out of the 47 people on the island when the eruption happened, 24 were from Australia, nine from the US, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from China, two from the UK, and one from Malaysia.

At the latest count (30 January 2020), 21 people have died from injuries resulting from the eruption.

Volcanologists described the event as a phreatic eruption - a release of steam and volcanic gases that caused an explosion, launching rock and ash into the air.

Tourists fleeing White Island Dec. 9th. 2019
Geonet - White Island crater before eruption
A mixture of volcanic ash and steam from White Island's crater.
Damaged Helicopter on White Island
Returning to pick up survivors
Recovery operation - 13th. Dec. 2019
White Island after eruption
Everest climbers - 2019