We turned back from the crater to walk back to the beach. The blue sky and sea made a dramatic contrast to the crater.
Near the beach, we visited the remnants of the old sulphur mine. At the turn of the 20th Century, some very hardy souls tried to mine the deposits of yellow sulphur. Sulphur was used in medicines, as sterilisation, in match heads, and in fertiliser, so they thought there was a buck to be made.
Living on a volcano had its downsides. Food and water had to be brought to the island, however since the Bay of Plenty was frequently rough, supplies weren’t guaranteed. The air quality (as we found out) wasn’t great, and the sulphuric acid ate away at everything. But most crucially, a hundred years ago they didn’t have seismic monitoring and so when part of the rim collapsed in 1914 creating a lahar (a mudflow made up of volcanic material and water) the 10 workers on the island didn’t have a hope. The only survivor was the camp cat, Peter, which was found a few days later. He was appropriately renamed ‘Peter the Great’ and became a local celebrity.
They had another go at mining a few years later, but the amount and quality of sulphur wasn’t great and so mining was abandoned; the buildings and equipment left to corrode in the sulphuric fumes.
We returned to the boat, and on the way back to Whakatane passed by a New Zealand fur seal colony nearby. At least these guys can get away quick smart if the volcano gets twitchy.
The boat sped off back to land, and soon the volcano was once again steaming away in the distance. This was one adventure we won’t forget in a hurry.