Today marks the first anniversary of New Zealand’s Whakaari / White Island eruption that killed 22 people and injured a further 25. Though merely saying “injured” doesn’t accurately describe the horrors both physical and emotional that those who lived had to endure that day and in the 52 weeks that have followed.
I was recently in Whakatane for a New Zealand Herald travel article – click here to read my story – and was taken on a scenic flight over Whakaari / White Island with White Island Flights. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram immediately after that flight:
48kms off the coast of Whakatane, this highly active volcano has been a tourist attraction for years. That is, until everything changed on December 9, 2019. On that fateful early summer’s day, 21 [later updated to 22] of the 47 people who were on the island at the time of a violent eruption lost their lives.
The tragedy has cast a huge scar on this region and it felt both sobering and humbling to view the island from the sky. It was surreal to see the remnants of a burnt out helicopter from that day, as well as the pathways where tourists used to walk.
The island itself surprised me with the existence of some small but significant forests amidst the otherwise barren landscapes, as well as a couple of gannet colonies. Whatever the future holds for Whakaari, I can’t help but feel it is a sacred, special place. Thoughts with all the families of those affected by last year’s eruption.
What follows are some of the photos I took from the window of the plane on that completely gripping, emotional flight. And scroll through to the end to also see a couple of images of the remarkable Mataatua Wharenui, one of the finest Maori meeting houses in all New Zealand. The role this Whakatane wharenui played in caring for victims and their families after the eruption, as well as being a base for rescuers, politicians and media, should never be overlooked. Read more about this very special place in my NZ Herald article.