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  • Day38

    Volcano and Trees

    August 16, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Gave a quick call to Volcanic Air at about 8.25 to make sure things looked good and they did, everything clear, so we headed down to their lakefront office. We filled in the forms, paid and were weighed and given a safety briefing. Our pilot and guide for the trip was Edine, known as Eddie and she brought the helicopter across from Rotorua airport to land on the lake jetty. We went out to meet her and stowed our coats and bag in the luggage boot then climbed in - Tash in the front going out, Ed coming back.

    Belted in and with headphones on for communication we took off - about a 40 minute flight to White Island, more or less half over land to the coast and half over sea to the Island. Eddie pointed out some key sites as we travelled. We saw how part of Lake Rotoru was a different colour due to the sulphur flowing into it. Roto is Maori for lake and Rua for second as this was the second lake the chief in that area came across. We could see White Island with its smoking white plumes almond as soon as we took off, showing how clear a day it was as it was about 100 km away. The island had been named by Captain Cook as he always saw white plumes of smoke coming from it. Later it was discovered to be a volcano and the surface was likened to being on the moon (once we were on it it looked more like the surface of another planet like Mars). Three rocks were pointed out to the left of the island which used to be used by the NZ airforce for target practice - thankfully this stopped a few years ago. There were still Gannets nesting on the side of the island, though most have left for the winter - in summer there are up to 5,000 there. Also outside the crater grows the New Zealand Christmas Tree - so called because it flowers red at Christmas.

    We circled the island and landed on a flat part on the opposite end to the crater lake. The helicopter had to cool down a bit before the rotor could be turned of and we could get out. Once out we were given hard hats to wear and gas masks to breathe through if the fumes made us cough. There were tow parts to the tour, the historic mining section and the natural volcanic section. We went with the mining section first and walked towards the ruins of the old Sulphur factory. Various mining attempts had been made over the years, none lasting long and some being disastrous (1914 when an explosion sent hot acidic mud through the miners camp - no one was ever found except Peter the Cat, who had sensed what was about to happen and fled to higher ground. The concrete buildings were ruined now and the iron smelting pots very corroded, certainly a tough environment to work in and make money from. Walking down towards the beach we saw a baby seal basking on the rocks - a relatively recent addition to the island. One of the original mine shareholders had bought the island for $1 and his family still owned it, charging for each visitor carried to the island.

    We moved on through sulphur mounds, where the gas from the earth deposited small amounts of sulphur as it left and formed a mound over time. The smell started to get worse here and Ed certainly was complaining and using the gas mask. We saw some bubbling mud pools - too hot to touch and were told that these moved around over time along with the sulphur vents as the magma below ground shifts around. We moved up to the biggest sulphur vent, where the smoke was really irritating tot he throat. walked up a bit nearer, the others declined and watched from outside the smoke. Tash got a small lump f sulphur to bring back. Then we moved to the edge of the crater lake. This was full of water from below at 90 or so degrees but also at ph 0.4 - not much would last long in there. We had to hold onto our hats as the wind was strong and gusts very strong at times. Sam lost a bit of paper from her pocket which blew down into the lake. On the far side of the lake was the main vent with lots of smoke coming from it - this was where ash and rocks came from when the volcano erupts - the last time was in 2013 when the water level in the lake had risen several metres then fallen sharply before the eruption of ash and smoke.

    We walked back and Sam's hat blew off - fortunately I was walking behind and managed to stop it with my foot before it ended up in the acid! We saw another mud pool where two hats had been lost and resurfaced once to everyone's surprise on a tour a few days later. We felt one of the streams which was running at about bath temperature. Then it was back to the helicopter for the return flight. Ed and I went for a quick wee behind a rock, so we can say we weed on a live volcano, hopefully it won't cause any seismic activity.

    Ed was in the front this time and got a guide as to how the helicopter worked and what the dials meant. The power can either go to forward speed or vertical movement, so as you move up you slow down. We were into a headwind and thought we might need to stop for fuel at Rotorua airport, but made it back to the jetty landing just before midday - a great trip to a really odd place.

    We had time to grab a quick bit of food at the Lakefront Cafe before getting picked up by the Canopy Tours minibus (the Volcanic Air people had kindly called to change our pick up to here from the Top 10 park). Sam was staying in town and the Campervan.

    We were picked up and taken to the tour office where we collected a Go-Pro to fit to our helmets and record the trips. We then met our guides (shane and Cam - who both turned out to be brilliant) and got our harnesses and helmets on. Then it was back in the minibus for the ride to the forest, 9 of us all together. We introduced ourselves with name, where from, hobbies, superhero you'd like to be and TV show you'd be trapped in for a month.

    At the Forest we were briefed again on not touching any of the metal parts of the harnesses (in case they came loose) then we were off on a fairly fast walk uphill through the forest to the first platform. This was enclosed like the ones we had done in Queenstown and after a bit more safety briefing Shane headed across to catch us and Cam clipped us in one by one. Ed went first then Tash then me and it was a fairly easy walk down steps until the harness tightened then away you flew. The platform the other side had no rails and we were just clipped on to a central metal safety bar. This made the next Zipwire a bit harder as there was nothing to hold onto as you walked down the steps to start the wire. The kids seemed to skip down, I was a bit more hesitant but got off and away we went.

    At the next platform we were told all about the birds they hope will eventually flourish in the Forest, with a funny name guessing game that involved catchphrase style clues "It's got long tail and comes out of a clock - long tailed cuckoo, "It's grey coloured and it warbles - it's a grey warbler!" The talk, as with all of them was fun and interesting. It was then another zipwire to the next platform, during the flight we were all told we had to flap our arms like a bird's wings!

    Then, for me, a scarier bit, we had to cross a rope bridge that was quite wobbly and not very wide. It had steel rope railings on the sides, but as you got to the middle these became very low and I struggled to hold on to them. I'm not good with walking across narrow things, but just had to plough on. I made it to the other side and managed a pose pointing to the sky on the photo spot. The kids managed to almost skip across without any problem.

    After this came the longest wire at 220m. Ed went first and as he neared the other end we could hear Shane's cries of grab the rope, grab the rope, which meant he didn't think Ed had enough momentum to carry him up the landing rope for Shane to grab, so Ed needed to grab hold of the rope handle on the braking block that Shane sent out onto the wire and then he could be pulled in. We heard another shout of grab again, then saw Ed sliding back 20 yards or so down the wire. This was cue for Shane to clip himself on while Ed dangled, slide out, attach a cable to ed and pull himself and Ed back in hand over hand like a monkey! Ed thought it was most amusing. When we all got over Shane explained that Ed had got the rope with one hand then it slipped out, then he got it with the other but couldn't hold on and so rolled back - very close to a grab but not quite.

    We then walked through the forest and stopped to learn a bit about the extinct birds like the Moa. Shane was great at talking about the loss of birds and the predators and very funny, keeping the kids engaged throughout. He had some worms with him, which were hand fed to the North Island Robin that appeared when Shane whistled. Ed put one on his hand and the robin flew in very quickly and grabbed it and flew away - too fast for me to manage to film it.

    Then we learnt about the pests that the company were trying to eliminate from the forest. Possums (originally brought in to farm for fur, now around 30 million in NZ, down from 75m at their peak due to all the trapping etc). Stoats brought in to kill rabbits (themselves brought in by Europeans) and rats that came in with Maoris for food and Europeans as pests on boats. Manual bait traps used to be used, but now automated ones that can kill up to 12 possums by shooting a bolt into their head and injecting CO2 into their brain from a canister. The dead possums drop to the floor which bizarrely attracts more possums to the traps. Most pests have now been eliminated from the inner area and traps are now removed to be put in a wider outer area. Shane told us that Captain Cook had recorded that he could hear the birdsong from NZ wen moored offshore and that when on land in the forest it was impossible to hold a conversation due to the noise of all the birds - just shows how many have been eliminated since that time unfortunately.

    Then onto the final two zips - the highest one at 40m above ground and 170m long - great view as going across. Then a short one to end with that we were encouraged to perform tricks on. I declined to go upside down but performed the salmon, lying back and shaking arms and feet like a salmon out of water. Ed had his rope twisted before clipping on so he spun round as he crossed.

    Then a final group photo with camera placed on the floor and the whole group of us peering down into it in a circle, which produced a surprisingly good photo. Back to home base to remove harnesses etc then we were dropped back to the lake front to meet Sam in the camper van. Ed wanted KFC for tea so we went there then back to the campsite to eat it, watch Cheaper by the Dozen 2 on the camp lounge TV, then a quick relaxing dip in the thermal pools on site before bed. Hobbiton tour booked for 10am tomorrow morning.
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