White Island - Legend and discovery

The Maori have a legend concerning the creation of Whakaari (White Island). Ngatoroirangi, a priest, explored the North Island and found himself on Mt Tongariro, almost freezing to death. He called his ancestors in Hawaiiki (the legendary Maori homeland) to send him fire. The fire was sent and travelled underground and under the sea to Aotearoa (New Zealand). It first rose at White Island and then created the hot pools, geysirs, fumaroles and volcanos along the Taupo volcanic zone.

The first European to see White Island was Lieutenant Cook of the Endeavour. On 1 October 1769 he entered in his logbook: "This island is called by the natives Koakhali". There must have been some confusion concerning the translation because the Maori call White Island "Te Puia o Whaakari". Cook named the Island "While Island" though he didn't notice it was a volcano.

In December 1826 the Rev. Henry Williams visited the Island and described it as "composed of sulphur, being blackened with ... smoke". One year later Dumond D'Urville saw the Island, but attributed the smoke to cooking fires of the natives. His captain believed people could not live on the island as the smell of sulphur was too strong. By the 1870s Judge Wilson considered the possibility of mining sulphur (see section "Sulphur Mining").

The Island Sulphur Mining