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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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White Island is a rhyolite volcano which forms an island in the Bay of Plenty 32 miles north of Whakatane. It appears to have been built up by fairly quiet volcanic activity. It was the seat of considerable hydrothermal activity with hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles widely distributed inside the crater, which is breached in the south. Scrub vegetation covers the lower slopes in the east, west, and north where fumes given off are less dense. For a number of years prior to 1914 sulphur was mined on White Island, but a collapse of the crater wall in that year overwhelmed the encampment and killed 12 miners. The disaster was almost certainly due to chemical attack on the minerals of the rock, so weakening the wall that it collapsed under its own weight. The floor of the crater is now covered with hummocks left by the mud flow generated at this time. White Island lies at the northern end of the Taupo-Rotorua Volcanic Zone within which occurs the bulk of New Zealand's modern hydrothermal and volcanic activity, although the zone is by no means the only active volcanic zone.

The island was known to the Maoris as Whakaari; the meaning is obscure. It was discovered by Cook on 31 October 1769. “I have named it White Island because as such it always appeared to us.”

by Thomas Ludovic Grant-Taylor, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.


Thomas Ludovic Grant-Taylor, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.