This morning found National Geographic Orion approaching White Island (Whakaari), an active volcano located thirty miles off the east coast of the North Island in the Bay of Plenty. We approached within the mandated three-mile limit, providing truly awe-inspiring views into the open-sided crater, vivid with sulphur yellow and billowing white steam. White Island was the site of a tragic eruption in 2019 that took the lives of twenty-two visitors. Today, all visitation is forbidden, leaving the volcano to the large colony of Australasian gannets that nest there.
As we sailed onward, we gathered for a lecture on bird feathers, flight, and other adaptations by Javier Cotin. Outside the ship, petrels and shearwaters demonstrated their mastery of flight in the stiff ocean wind. After lunch, on-board activities continued with tours of the ship’s amazingly organized and efficient galley and a talk by Pepper Trail on his unique career in wildlife law enforcement as a forensic ornithologist.
By midafternoon, we reached the Alderman Islands, a group of four large islands and many small islets and spires twelve miles off the Coromandel Peninsula. The islands provided us with the opportunity for beautifully scenic Zodiac cruising. The islands are made of relatively soft, volcanic material, and have eroded into dramatic cliffs, caves, and arches. The skies around the islands were lively with pied cormorants, silver and kelp gulls, and Australasian gannets. It was truly a memorable exploration of a wonderful little archipelago. And then, back to the comfort of National Geographic Orion for dinner!