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.
We left the relative comfort of the boat and stepped on to a moonscape. This was the earth at its most raw, how it must have looked when it was first born.
All around us were piles of rocks (some of startling hues due to its mineral content), steaming vents, and bubbling mud pools. We were given gas masks as the sulphire dioxide (that stinky egg smell) was sometimes overpowering. We really had to follow our guides carefully as none of us wanted to drown in a pool of hot acid.
The most impressive site was the steaming vent, or series of vents. Even though the steam was caused by seawater pouring into the hot crater and something more noxious, it was still frightening. It was like peering into the depths of hell.
Our visit to White Island was certainly the highlight of the tour. White Island is an active volcano 50km off the coast, in the middle of the Bay of Plenty. There’s not that many places on earth where you can step into the crater of a live volcano so everyone on the tour was excited.
It was an early, pre-dawn start, with breakfast at 5.15am so we could reach the Bay of Plenty town of Whakatane, our departure point. The sun was just rising when the boat passed the sandbar.
The coast was soon behind us as we cruised into the middle of the bay.
It was a bit chilly on deck, but being very prone to seasickness, I’d rather be there than indoors. Luckily the weather was good and the water was quite calm.
We first caught sight of the island about an hour or so into the journey. And the volcano was steaming!
We arrived at the hour-and-a-half mark. With some trepidation, we boarded the rubber zodiacs and approached the island.
What did we find?
We travelled from east coast to west coast in a few hours in Auckland to view some volcanic features. On the calm waters of the east coast at Takapuna Beach, we saw Rangitoto Island, a volcanic that erupted only 500 years ago.
The sand on this beach is sandy at least, and full of shell bits. It’s not a bad place to stroll down, even on a showery day.
The west coast beaches of course were completely different. We visited Muriwai Beach to view the basalt columns on the cliff-face.
With its black sand, biting winds and roaring surf, it was certainly a wild and woolly place.
A few weeks after we returned from Europe via Singapore, we packed our bags again. Hubby was leading a 10 day geology school group tour of the North Island of New Zealand, and I once again tagged along.
It was mid-winter, and Auckland was a bit chilly, although nothing like what it had been in Europe, and showery. We started off by visiting Mt Eden and its extinct volcano crater. Auckland is full of these extinct craters, although these volcanoes oozed rather than exploded.
In the distance we could see other ‘mounds’, which were other volcanoes. Nowadays they are surrounded by suburbia. Luckily they are well and truly extinct!
When the Santorini volcano erupted 4000 years ago in the Bronze age, there was already a full-blown civilisation in this part of the Mediterranean. The Minoan civilisation centered on the island of Crete, and since Crete is a mere 200km south of Santorini, with no other landmasses in-between, then Santorini became an important gateway to the rest of the Greek islands. We have a great record of how things were in the buried town of Akrotiri.
Akrotiri was on the slopes of the old volcano, and looked to be a wealthy town. They had buildings up to three stories high, running water, even drains and sewers. That’s highly sophisticated town for the Bronze Age. Unlike in the buried Roman city of Pompeii, people on Akrotiri had plenty of warnings that the volcano was about to blow through a series of earthquakes that devastated the city in the months leading up to the eruption, hence there have been no skeletal remains found on the site. What was left though is quite astonishing, and the Greeks have beautifully preserved it in a giant hanger-like structure to protect the site.
Here, the houses, the pottery, even the frescoes have been preserved and in tact. You could even walk through some of the houses.
We saw the remnants of the old kitchen, where someone was cooking dinner 4000 years ago.
And here looked like the remains of the toilet facitilies.
Outside, we saw how much ash the archaeologists, who have been working on the site since the late 1960s, had to dig out in order to excavate the site. It’s certainly the work of a lifetime for them. We were glad to be able to see it.
Hubby was certainly fascinated by the geological aspects of the Santorini eruption, and certainly the signs of a massive eruption was all around, if you know what to look for. To begin with, the soil on the island was all made of volcanic ash. In fact the ash layer was perhaps 50 metres thick. You can see it in this quarry. All those layers under the buildings are all ash.
The volcano before the eruption must have been very big. Hubby says it would have looked like any other volcano cone, perhaps like the shape of Mount Fuji, but bigger. You can get a taste of the scale of the volcano from various high points on the island.
We could see the shape of the caldera clearly curve around from the village of Pyrgos, which we will visit later.
Whichever way you look at the island, Santorini is certainly impressive.
We’ve finally made it to our final destination, in Greece at least – the island of Santorini. Santorini is what Greek holiday dreams are made of – stunning location, generally good weather, and large selection of accommodation and activities. That also meant that there was bound to be crowds all year round. We certainly weren’t sure of what we would find in April, but we were pleasantly surprised.
Our hotel was a pretty plush affair, and postcard-perfect, if it wasn’t for the 30km/h winds and mid-teen temperatures that greeted our arrival.
We didn’t have a ‘caldera view’ despite the plushness, but a quick walk across the road remedied that.
Santorini is of course the main island of what was once the rim of a super volcano. The volcano infamously imploded upon itself around 4000 years ago, wiping out the Minoan civilisation, and creating the caldera (a flooded volcano) that we see today. Since then a mini volcano has started growing in the middle, so Santorini isn’t quite dormant yet. An active volcano doesn’t seem to put off the cruise ships – it’s the favourite destination of many Mediterranean cruises.
The towns on the island are mainly perched high upon the rim. We stayed near the main town of Fira where the houses were built staggered down the cliff-side. That made for a lot of stair-walking.
We’ll be exploring the town and its surrounds in the next few posts.
We also found different minerals in all different shapes and sizes.
The minerals here formed inside a cooling rock, and looks like an egg.
These minerals have formed between two layers of bedding.
But the most fascinating was this specimen, which looks like a miniature garden of crystal.
There was a variety of heavy machinery at the quarry. Some were in every day use.
But there were some older machinery in the less used corners of the mine which reflects the quarry’s 50 years of use. I found these more interesting.