WHAKATANE AND WHITE ISLAND VOLCANO
10 November - 14 November
Valda and Dennis, our hosts, invited us to join them and their Jewish tramping group for a weekend outing. I was very moved during Kabbalat Shabbat when one of the men said the blessing over the challah. Here, at the other end of the world, was a stranger enacting the same ancient ritual performed every Friday night during thousands of years by Jews all over the world from vastly differing backgrounds. It was an overwhelmingly poignant moment and I was glad to be a Jew.
On Saturday we went by boat to White Island, an active volcano. We were each issued with a hard hat and a gas mask! All Israelis have their personal gas mask in case of biological warfare. The thought of having to don a gas mask for a fun outing was mind-boggling.
As we walked to the caldera we passed bubbling mud. White Island is privately owned and completely undeveloped, and there are no signs pointing the way or describing the area, no paths or fences leading to the various points of interest. The wonderful thing is that we were part of that island for a short time. We walked up a rise, really a mound of ash and mesmerized gazed down into the mouth of the volcano. This, one felt, was creation.
By the sulfur holes we could go as close as foolishness allowed and actually peer into the sulfur holes.A mouth is built up around the vent by crystallizing sulfur. If you peer carefully inside you can see a caramel coloured jelly which is the liquid sulfur just below the cooled surface. The sulfur plant that used to be there was destroyed when part of the mountain by the volcano mouth slid into the sea. There was no plant life in or around the crater. Beyond the outside rim we could see stark bare tree trunks on a rise. The leaves had been burnt by the steam, but the trees themselves, we were told, are still alive. Next to the trees, and partially sheltered, arctic grass was growing and a colony of gannets nested in the rocky spaces. It was a great day.
The following morning, suitably outfitted with raingear, swim suits, hats, sunscreen, walking sticks, water and meat sandwiches, saved from previous night's barbecue, seven determined hikers set off for the day's 7-hour walk. It was up and down a mountain that dropped sharply to the sea below. The track afforded great views of the sea below and later passed through bush. We would call the bush, forest – with tree ferns, manuka shrubs (tea tree) and other small trees and bushes. When New Zealanders say ‘bushmen’ they mean woodcutters who go into the bush/forest. Described as a moderate walk, we realized that the New Zealanders have a different frame of reference!
On the way back to Auckland Dennis and Valda took us to the Coromandel peninsula. The main reason was to see Catherdral Cove because Valda has a most interesting painting of this beautiful bay, picturing a landing of Captain Cook’s Endeavour at Cathedral Cove (he actually landed at Cook’s Bay, one bay over). Cathedral Cove is enchanting and we enjoyed the soft late afternoon light and stillness of the air and sea. A lone Little Blue Penguin, with an injured wing limped across the sand. It is the smallest of the penguins, more the size of a biggish bird. Although tempted we didn’t touch it and hoped it would be better by morning.
We woke to a light drizzle and grey skies, but the four of us went for a long walk along the Hahei beach – the nicest beach we’ve seen so far. Here we could retire. We all swam and the water was so cold that we couldn’t stay immersed for more than a few seconds. Afterwards it became addictive.
We had a lazy breakfast and then continued back to Auckland
It was a grand long weekend!