Helicopter Ride To Hell
Entry posted by SlashingUK ·
In 1997 I took a trip with my then girlfriend to New Zealand. Anywhere else I've been to in the world, the word "tourist" has been a somewhat derogatory and demeaning term, but not in New Zealand. They sure know how to treat visitors. We met up with my girlfriend's friend who was living in Hamilton on a year's sabbatical and planned a tour. She'd already been to all the preferred tourist hotspots, so while the three of us travelled together, we decided to visit the less-frequented region of the East Cape (the back-fin of the North Island fish-shape). Doing our research before the trip my eye was caught by White Island - a highly active volcano just (50km) off the north coast of the cape. One of the great attractions of New Zealand for me was the fascinating geology and this was an opportunity I didn't want to miss.
The day arrived when we were close to White Island and we hurried down to the port to book our trip across to the Island. There is a handy landing spot at the edge of the old caldera where a shingle beach provides access to shallow bottomed boats, but unfortunately the sea was too rough that day and none of the boats were expecting to be able to make the trip. I didn't want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity and so persuaded my two companions to fork out the five hundred bucks for the only other means of crossing - helicopter. I have absolutely no regrets about this money well-spent.
The pilot had flown many scientists to the island and had picked up a lot of the science from a layman's perspective - so proved to be an excellent guide. A hundred years ago, the island was inhabited by sulphur miners, but they'd all been killed during an eruption and nobody had risked living there since (though there are webcams permanently situated on the island now). The edge of the caldera stunk of sulphur - aka brimstone. The ancients and mediaevals believed that volcanoes were the entrance to the underworld and that sulphur was the stuff of Hell seeping from its brim. As we strolled across the caldera to the most active part and the central lake we had to don gas masks to protect our lungs and eyes. We were able to walk up to the edge of the lake and peer into it. The pilot had once hovered over the lake and lowered an acidity-meter into the lake, but it hadn't registered a reading because it had dissolved - a feat only possible in a pH below minus one!
On the return flight the pilot made several passes around the island for the keen photographers among us. I'd foolishly only taken my higher powered zoom lens, so wasn't quite able to capture the full majesty of the spectacle, but this is the best picture I managed to take - long before the days of digital photography. I'm very pleased with the level of detail in this 35mm film picture, but if you zoom in a lot you can make out some of the flaws of chemical film production.
My picture of White Island from the helicopter
A couple of weeks later, on South Island, I proposed to my girlfriend and we married the following year (back home in England).
Thanks for reading.
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