New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Whakatane mayor Judy Turner speaking at a press conference on Tuesday. Picture: John Boren/Getty Images
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Whakatane mayor Judy Turner speaking at a press conference on Tuesday. Picture: John Boren/Getty Images

Volcano tours ‘safe’ and should continue: NZ mayor

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not ruled out continued tourism operations around White Island.

Asked whether Monday's eruption signalled the end of tours there, Ms Ardern said it was one of a number of questions that needed to be asked, but the immediate focus was on survivors.

"Tourism operations have been undertaken there for several decades, up to 30 years, and it's been a live volcano throughout that time, and at various times has been at level two [alert level], but it is a very unpredictable volcano," she said.

"There will be questions that will be asked and they will need to be answered by the appropriate authorities, and we will be ensuring that that happens," Ms Ardern said.

It has been estimated that 10,000 people visit the volcanic site each year, making it the primary tourism destination in the Whakatāne region.

Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner said she hoped tourism operations to White Island would continue. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images
Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner said she hoped tourism operations to White Island would continue. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Helicopter tours to the island - also known as Whakaari - commenced in 1987.

According to the Whakatāne District Council, tourism contributes over $100 million to the local economy, and the industry employs 10 per cent of the total workforce.

In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Whakatāne Mayor Judy Turner said she wanted tourism operations to the site to continue.

 

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust took this image during a rescue mission to retrieve people injured in the volcanic explosion. Picture: Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust
The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust took this image during a rescue mission to retrieve people injured in the volcanic explosion. Picture: Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

 

"White Island Tours is an absolutely iconic business, not just for Whakatāne, but for New Zealand, and has been successfully operating under the procedures that would be expected of them for 30 years," she said.

"I have been out with them and was very impressed with the briefings that we were given and the attention to health and safety protocols that were done at the time. I'm very confident that they're a safe practitioner."

White Island Tours craft on the Whakatane wharf. Tourism is the region’s fastest growing industry. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images
White Island Tours craft on the Whakatane wharf. Tourism is the region’s fastest growing industry. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Ms Turner said Monday's disaster would have an immediate impact on local tourism, but the longer term effect was "yet to be seen".

Local cafe owner Ethan Poulton said: "That mistake affects everyone - all the businesses around here.

"It is terrible that people have been hurt but now we are worried on what this will mean for the rest of the summer. The volcano brings people to Whakatane," the owner of the Double Zero cafe said.

Professor Ross Dowling, Honorary Professor at the School of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University, said 'volcano tourism' was a worldwide trend.

"Part of the attraction is to visit an unpredictable natural environment and for most tourists they assume that they will be able to visit such dangerous sites in relative safety," Prof Dowling said.

 

A Royal Geographical Society study by University of Cambridge geographer Amy Donovan warned that "volcano tourists" put themselves and overstretched rescue services in danger.

She said "volcanophiles" were fascinated by the elemental power of the earth, particularly rushing towards erupting volcanoes.

"You can breathe the gas, hear the sounds the earth is making. They want to get closer to feel the power of the earth," she said.

But they did not realise the dangers of being hit by falling rock or lava bombs and the poisonous gases released by the superheated molten rock, she added.


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