Weta make a regular appearance during the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust night walks. Photo / Supplied
The forest is a different world at night. My senses are alert, my nose filled with the earthy smell of the damp layers of leaves and foliage.
We all emerge from the forest buzzing with curiosity and appreciation for the hard mahi the volunteers do.
The next day I’m off for a guided tour of Moutohorā / Whale Island with White Island Tours.
Moutohorā/Whale Island, a pest-free sanctuary home to rare and endangered plants, birds, and reptiles. Photo / Supplied
The boat slaps the water as it bounces over big waves, and my stomach drops.
Anyone who has been in the back of the car as their parents sped over the Kawakawa speed bumps knows the feeling I’m talking about.
Further away from the shore, the ocean is calm, its surface like dark green velvet rippling in the wind.
Seals somersault in the water as we arrive at the island. We follow penguin and tūturiwhatu/dotterel footprints across the beach and into the bush.
Ngāti Awa Tourism runs guided tours of Moutohorā / Whale Island. Photo / Supplied
Canopies of thin trees that have bowed over the track and intertwined their branches so we can hardly see the sky anymore.
As we crunch twigs and leaves underfoot, our guide hushes us to stay still. She crouches down and points to a log where a tuatara stands, frozen, a rare sight during the day.
We continue up through the bush almost to the top of the island; higher still, a pā looms above us and grand pōhutukawa, hundreds of years old, thrive.
Straight ahead of us, Whakaari/White Island exhales white plumes into the sky and it’s hard to keep the events of December 9, 2019 out of mind.
I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like here on the day the volcano erupted: it impacted on many in New Zealand and overseas, but none more than the whānau of Whakatāne and those who lost their lives. Thousands of hearts sank that day.
We track back down the other side of the island to a geothermal valley filled with kānuka, where trails of steam curl out of the land and sulphate has turned the rocks yellow.
The view of Whakaari / White Island from Moutohorā. Photo / Supplied
Before we head back, the skipper circumnavigates the island. At the base of its east side is a fortress of huge spire-like rocks, making it impenetrable to anyone below. They look like the type of formations that could’ve inspired architects to design cathedrals.
I’m left in awe of the land. Speechless. And feeling incredibly lucky I got to see this corner of Aotearoa.
DETAILSFor more information on things to see and do in the region, go to whaktane.com
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newfinder.co.nz and newzealand.com