Travel Review - New Zealand: White Island with Frontier Helicopters

7:00 AM

There is a reason for this post coming up first in the run down from our recent New Zealand holiday. Visiting an active volcano has been on my bucket list forever. Seriously, I wanted to be a volcanologist when I was growing up. I have been close to places with volcanoes in the past, both Vanuatu and Hawaii, but both weren't on the doorstep to where we were staying.

White Island was different. It is 50km directly off shore from Whakatane on the East coast of New Zealands North Island and can be seen with the naked eye on a clear day, steaming away towards the horizon.

After doing our research we had a few alternatives to see this fascinating island. There is a light plane that fly's over, the good ship PeeJay that operates out of Whakatane and docks at the island, and the option we took, a 2 hour helicopter flight and tour with Frontier Helicopters. As there are different means to viewing the island, they are also different price ranges, so check your budget prior to picking how you see this wonderful marvel.

Frontier Helicopters operate out of Whakatane Airport and run 2 different helicopters out to the island, at a cost of $650 NZD per person. By taking this option, which is by far the most expensive of the three, you are getting the best of both worlds in terms of seeing the island from the air and being able to walk the surface.

  The safety briefing was concise and we were on our way. The flight time one way being around 20 minutes, this leaves about an hour on the volcano floor with your tour guide (also your pilot).

You don't have to be super fit to do this tour. The hills are rolling and it is a slow paced tour. There are a couple of little streams that you need to step across (and in my case stop and test the water temp with my fingers).

You will encounter bubbling mud pools, sulfur yellowing the ground in places, steam coming from everywhere you can see, and the smell (which isn't anywhere as bad as you would think). The land is baron with only a few trees growing on the Eastern side of the volcano. You can imagine a film set looking like the surface of Mars.

There has been several attempts to mine the sulfur on this site over the years, all failing, but leaving behind a glimpse of the past for you to see.  Your tour will take you to the last standing building and the machinery left behind from these days. Viewing these items up close where you can touch them, will give you a good sense of why sulfur mining was not viable.

The safety equipment issued includes a life jacket to be worn only for the flights, and a hard hat and gas mask while on the ground on White Island. These are all legal requirements, but the gas mask is not necessarily worn the whole time, only when you feel the smell is too much. We did out trip with someone that insisted on wearing it the whole time. Personally, I only wore it to take a couple of photos before I had to hand it back (seriously, how often to you get the chance to wear a gas mask). The sulfur can catch you in the back of the throat, and it will help with that, but it is not dangerous to be inhaled. All flights are GPS tracked and monitored while you are out there.

If you are in it for the photos, because lets face it, in this day of digital recording and social media, who isn't, there is nothing that you cant snap a picture of. Between two of us, we had a DSLR, iphone 5C and a GoPro Hero 3. All of which were used for our documenting process. We had both of the middle back seats on the way out to the island, yet we still got decent photos. I will advise if you are given a seat on the window, please be respectful of the people in the middle seats as they will be trying to get photos around you.

Scientists are always monitoring this island and the team at Frontier are constantly in contact with them, being their eyes on the ground and reporting things that look a little different. If there are issues with weather, or the island, flights will be cancelled and re-scheduled where possible. The staff are super helpful and willing to answer any questions you have, including putting your mind at ease if you are a little uncertain about flying.

We booked our flight through the Frontier Helicopters website, which was easy to use. And don't forget to follow their facebook page as your guide will be taking photos out there on the ground, just in case they pop up.

This trip was one of the best 2 hours of my life, putting a big fat tick in that bucket list box for both the Volcano and helicopter flight (and getting hubby to agree to doing more things like this when travelling). The team from Frontier were fantastic, the tour was relaxed and one that I highly recommend. 

The views expressed in this post are my own opinion only and this is in no way affiliated with Frontier Helicopters.

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