This morning we awoke earlier than usual for a sea day, as National Geographic Orion was scheduled to reach Whakaari/White Island at first light. The rain that had passed through in brief showers cleared away as the first rays of the sun reached the sides of the large volcanic island. The island’s Māori name is “Te Puia Whakaari,” which translates to “the dramatic volcano.” This is New Zealand’s most active volcano with continual volcanic action for the past 150,000 years and several eruptions in recent years. A large column of steam and sulphurous gas could be seen rising high above the island and reaching into the clouds.

In the afternoon, we reached the nearby island group known as the Aldermans. This group of four main islands is approximately ten miles off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island. With suitable offshore swells and conditions, we launched the Zodiacs to tour around these eroded volcanic rock islands in search of wildlife. The basalt rock formed interesting formations, with large pyramid-shaped rocks and hidden grottos and sea caves.

These offshore islands are critical to New Zealand’s nature reserve system, and they provide refuge to some of the rarest birds and reptiles endemic to New Zealand, including the iconic Tuatara lizard.