STOP PRESS – White Island volcano erupts

I’m interrupting the chronological flow of this blog to report a shocking piece of news. White Island volcano, which we visited on 20 October, has erupted.

Happier times: White Island volcano at the time of our visit, 20 October 2019

As I sit here – at 7:45am, 9 December 2019 – writing this, snug in my dressing gown with a steaming mug of tea at my side, the BBC News website leads with the headline One dead in NZ volcano, with number ‘likely to rise’.

Here’s a link to the post I published shortly after our visit. Reading it again, I can see that when we went White Island we were a bit glib and complacent. Yes, we were made aware of the dangers: we were required to sign a disclaimer, instructed to wear hard hats while on the island and issued with gas masks. But neither we, nor any of the others on our tour, believed for a moment that anything bad could or would happen. Bad things don’t happen to good people, do they?

And those poor souls who visited White Island earlier today wouldn’t have believed it either. They, like us, would have regarded a visit to New Zealand’s most active volcano as a little adventure, a bit of a laugh maybe.

But nobody’s laughing now. Except, maybe, nature herself. Nature always has the last laugh. Nature makes the rules, and we are subject to her whims and capriciousness. That is the way it is, and the way it should be. We’re all just guests here in nature’s garden, guests on this beautiful, crazy, brutal planet.

I’m reminded also of the role of chance in our lives, and our deaths. We could have been on White Island today. The timing of our trip to New Zealand was determined to maximise our chances of seeing Fiordland Crested Penguins. Without that driver, without our goal of laying eyes on that particular species of bird, we might have visited New Zealand a few weeks later, when the weather is kinder.

In a parallel universe, one where birding doesn’t shape our travel plans, we could have been on White Island today, terrified and in mortal peril as the volcano blew its top.

The story is still emerging, but our thoughts are with the tourists and tour operators who got caught up in today’s White Island tragedy, with those who were injured, and with the families and friends of the deceased. It’s a very sad day, and takes a bit of gloss off the memories of our New Zealand adventure.

Link to the emerging story on the BBC news website, 8:30am

Link to updated story on BBC news website, 3:40pm

Walking on the wild side

We’re beginning to get our heads around the itinerary for our New Zealand adventure. And what a big, impressive beast it is!

We’ll drive down to Heathrow, where our first novel experience awaits us: the priority check-in and all-round pampering that is – I sincerely hope – the lot of the business class traveller.

PHOTO CREDIT: From Pixabay via Pexels

We’ve never flown business before, and probably never will again, so we plan to make the most of it. I hope they load plenty of champagne to keep us suitably mellow during the flight to Singapore, where we’ll spend a couple of nights before flying on to Auckland.

Sultan Mosque, Singapore (2016)

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest metropolitan centre, being home to around a third of the country’s entire population of a little under five million. After spending four nights in and around the city, acclimatizing and recovering from the inevitable jet lag, we’ll pick up a rental car and spend a further ten nights visiting some of the highlights of North Island.

Then it’s a short internal flight from Palmerston North, across the Cook Strait to Christchurch where a second rental car awaits us. We’ll spend the next 32 nights touring the length and breadth of South Island, before returning to Christchurch for the flight back to the UK.

Embed from Getty Images

That’s if we make it to South Island, of course. Before we get there, we’re due to visit White Island on the east coast of the North Island, in the Bay of Plenty. It’s New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, and has been built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years. Active it surely is, as our itinerary advises us that we’ll be issued with hard hats and gas masks before we arrive.

White Island, New Zealand - 2 of 16

PHOTO CREDIT: “White Island, New Zealand – 2 of 16” by Phillip Wong – http://phw.co.nz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

GAS MASKS! For heaven’s sake, what sort of trip is this going to be? I’m feeling my age a bit these days and was rather hoping New Zealand would be a walk in the park. But instead it looks like we’ll be walking on the wild side.

White Island, New Zealand - 4 of 16

PHOTO CREDIT: “White Island, New Zealand – 4 of 16” by Phillip Wong – http://phw.co.nz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On the other hand, why not? After all, you only live once. It could even be fun, and if the volcano blows its top while we’re there at least I’ll leave this life with an impressive bang.

Hard hats, gas masks, random unpredictable volcanic eruptions and accompanying earth tremors? Bring ’em on I say, bring ’em on!