Whakatane’s star attraction is White Island (Whaakari), named by Cook for its permanent shroud of mist and steam. roughly circular and almost 2km across, White island lies 50km offshore, sometimes a rough ride. neither this nor its seething volcanism deters visitors, who flock to its desolate, other-worldly landscape, with billowing towers of gas, steam and ash spewing from a crater lake sixty metres below sea level. Smaller fumaroles come surrounded by bright yellow and white crystal deposits that re-form in new and bizarre shapes each day. The crystal-clear and abundant waters around the island make this one of the best dive spots in new Zealand.
Whaakari embodies the ongoing clash between the indo-australian Plate and the Pacific Plate that has been driven beneath it for the last two million years. This resulted in the upward thrust of super-heated rock through the ocean floor, creating a massive volcanic structure. Sulphur, for use in fertilizer manufacture, was sporadically mined on the island from the 1880s but catastrophic eruptions, landslides and economic misfortune plagued the enterprise. The island was abandoned in 1934, and these days it is home only to 60,000 grey-faced petrels and 10,000 gannets. You can only land on the island via a guided boat tour or by helicopter.