Monday, July 4, 2016

Whakaari/White Island New Zealand

While in New Zealand, we did a unique trip. We went out to Whakaari/White Island, New Zealand's most active volcano. There had been several earthquakes and a volcanic eruption the week before so we wouldn't have been surprised if our tour was cancelled.

The first challenge was to get over the bar and out to sea.
No problem. Just a gentle swell.

Here we are outfitted in our safety gear - a hard hat, to be worn at all times and a gas mask around the neck, to use at leisure (when feeling overcome by the fumes).
The sea stayed calm for the journey and no one was seasick (as in 'threw-up').
According to our guides, it was already a good day.

Next challenge - getting from the RIB to the rust poles they called a ladder by timing the swell and the step/stretch/leap just right.
The sea co-operated with only a smooth light swell.

We were supposed to be listening to our guides giving us the safety briefing but most people were already hooked to their cameras.
And most of us had our masks on already. The acidic air caught in the throat, made eyes water and noses run. We were handed boiled sweets/lollies to suck on as relief for our acid etched throats.

Steaming fumaroles and boiling mud.
This what our guide warned us about. "Stick to the trails and don't stand on a mound - it could be a thin crust of ash covering a fumarole." (My Spell check wanted to know if I meant 'funeral.')
With the most recent eruption happening last week there was grey ash everywhere and steam continually drifted through our group. It was difficult to see where the actual path was.
Peoples' cotton t-shirts were getting bleached.

The centre of the island is now a lake of acid.
This is a colour picture/photograph - not a black and white. 
If we saw glowing white steam we were instructed to move away because it was sulphur dioxide.
I Googled it - 

What are the most important things to know about sulphur

 dioxide in an emergency?

Emergency Overview: Colourless gas. Suffocating odour. VERY TOXIC. Fatal if inhaled. Corrosive to the respiratory tract. A severe, short-term exposure may cause long-term respiratory effects (e.g., Reactive Airways Dysfunction (RADS)). CORROSIVE. Causes severe skin burns and eye damage. May cause frostbite. SUSPECT MUTAGEN. Suspected of causing genetic defects.
Sulphur was mined on the island until last century when and eruption killed all 10 workers.
The remains of the operation are a fascinating study of corrosion.
The strongest materials are eroding the fastest - steel and concrete while wood and rubber seem to be being preserved.

Rusted equipment

Steel and wood.

The last challenge - getting across the sea to home.
No problem - the sea was mirror calm. So calm albatrosses couldn't get the lift they needed to take off from the water and were marooned until the breezes started up again. 
A bonus was seeing literally hundreds of sea mammals - dolphins, porpoise, whales.
Such an amazing trip. A 'must-do' on any NZ trip.

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