Clarke Gayford: Peering into White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano

Want to get rid of a body? Then the Crater Lake on White Island would be ideal. Or so my Kahu helicopter pilot and guide Tom tells me with one of those Kiwi, ‘I’m not actually being serious’ grins wiped across his face. But that’s hard to gauge through my squinty eyes, forced shut by the burning sulphur fumes, whipped up from the green caldron below, here on the precipice of New Zealand’s most active volcano.

What a location, situated 48km off shore. A chuffing, smoking, belching pit of an island that I had driven past, forever in the distance, along the pohutakawa lined coastal highway looking out to sea from Whakatane. However until this moment, I had never actually stepped foot upon it.

A wild destination full of volatility that one of my earliest childhood memories can attest to. Imprinted is an indelible scene of coming out to parked cars one morning while staying at Te Kaha to find everything covered in ash. A vivid memory of running fingers along my parents’ blue Toyota Corolla station-wagon, drawing pictures in the fine burned rock powder that now coated everything. White Island had exploded.

Many are familiar with its history as a failed sulphur mine that took the lives of miners, but not the cat. The sulphur was landed by ship in Tauranga at a place that is still easily recognisable as Sulphur Point. Which is a fun car driving fact you can spring upon trapped passengers during your next trundle past. Despite the governments’ best efforts the Island remains in private ownership, and despite the best efforts of others it also never quite became the offshore casino it was once rumoured to be lined up for.

Walking across it is an experience as close to walking an alien landscape as you can have. Steam vents, ferocious storms, acid rain, and belchy rumbles all change the surface here so regularly that there is little point in having any real permanent structures. The eerie bones of the destroyed sulphur mine lay about as a stark reminder of this.


4 x 180g hapuku with skin on

8 x 2cm pieces of kamokamo

Garlic butter


1 cob of corn

3 tomatoes

1 Tbsp rice bran oil (or low taste oil)

Handful of baby spinach (optional)

Salt and pepper


3x egg yolks

300g butter

4 Kawakawa leaves (stalk removed)

1 tsp mild or wholegrain mustard

2 tsp white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Turn on a fan forced oven to 200C, turn on chargrill or barbecue if using a chargrill. (you can also use a hot pan)

Cook corn on the cob — place into boiling water for 5 minutes, remove and place into iced water to stop the cooking process.

Repeat the process — boil the Kamokamo for 3 minutes, then cool

Once cool, drain the water and place onto a roasting tray.

Spread garlic butter onto on side of the kamokamo.

Slice tomato into quarters and remove the seeds.

Dice remaining tomato and put into a bowl.

Slice the corn of the cob, and roughly chop the baby spinach, add to bowl with oil, mix and season to taste.

Place egg yolks, kawakawa leaves, vinegar and mustard into a food processor — turn on high and leave for a few minutes.

Put butter into a microwave proof container with a lid (corner lifted on lid) and heat until the butter is boiling — approximately 3 minutes.

With the food processor still going slowly add the hot butter to the mix.

Season to taste and keep in a warm place until ready to serve.

Score the Hapuku skin with a few slices (to allow the fat to be released whilst cooking) and rub salt and pepper onto the skin.

Cook the Hapuku on a chargrill or a pan with oil, on high heat with the skin facing down.

Once the side of the Hapuku starts to go white turn the fish, and place into the oven for 5 minutes.

Place the kamokamo into the oven.

Check fish after five minutes — you are aiming to cook it medium, you don’t want to over cook it or it will go dry.

To Plate:
Place 2 pieces of kamokamo onto the plate on top of each other, place fish on the top.

Spoon hollandaise on top of the fish

Place a few spoons of salsa onto the side

Garnish with fresh herbs.

Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, Sundays at 5.30pm on Three

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