Whakaari / White Island eruption: Tourists are aware of risks in NZ, but not deterred

7:06 pm on 11 December 2019

Tourists say they've become more aware of the risks of travelling in New Zealand, but it isn't a deterrent.


In the wake of the Whakaari / White Island eruption, tourists say they're more aware of risks in New Zealand. Photo: Supplied

They spoke in the wake of the Whakaari / White Island eruption which has left eight people missing, six dead and 30 in hospitals around the country.

Adrift Tongariro Guiding director Stewart Barclay said it was the tourism industry's job to make sure visitors were well aware of the risks involved in adventure activities - and to balance the risk and the reward.

His company operates around an active volcano - In 2012, the craters on the northern slopes of Mount Tongariro erupted twice.

"I know New Zealand does that really, really well. But you're going to have incidents, unfortunately we're never going to eliminate incidents despite our efforts. We have to make sure we get that in the correct proportion and zero isn't the right percentage unfortunately," Barclay said.

"Discussions will be had at all levels of adventure tourism - going from the guides right up to no doubt the Ministry."

But first, the priority was to help and support the people involved in the Whakaari/White Island tragedy, he said.

White Island. (file image).

Whakaari / White Island. Photo: alanpicard07/123RF

Many are international visitors.

Today, tourists in Nelson said they didn't always factor in risk when they were working out which activities to do.

Dutch tourists Tessa Biesheuvel and Sjoerd Bakker said they came to New Zealand thinking it didn't pose any risks.

"When we went to New Zealand, that it was like all perfect and no nature disasters, but then it turned out it can happen," Bakker said.

Their trip around the South Island was cut short by bad weather on the West Coast, and now they're heading north.

Biesheuvel said they learnt to expect the unexpected while travelling

"We wanted to go to the West Coast and the weather was quite bad, and we didn't expect it because there is like a perfectly drawn picture for us that it's always good weather and no, we didn't expect the tree to fall and the rocks to come down and the roads to be closed. In the end we didn't go there."

The riskiest thing they'd done so far was tramping.

James Robinson, of Port Chalmers, was visiting Nelson on one of his many South Island trips, and said many tourism experiences couldn't be sanitised and free of risks.

"I was down in Fiordland recently and I was crossing rivers alone at night with my head torch. It was safe to do so the rivers were low and I was tired and would rather sleep at the hut than in ferns," Robinson said.

The cost of tourism activities was greater than the risk they presented, he said.

"Although I think tourism is a vital global trade, I think often tourism also destroys local custom and identity."

Tourism Industry Aotearoa, chief executive, Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts. Photo: SUPPLIED - TIA

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said an inquiry needed to ask whether the rules about Whakaari trips were up to scratch.

"We do have to ask serious questions about the activity being undertaken and what we can do better," Roberts said.

"But we have to take the time to do that properly, not to jump to any conclusions, to consider all of those who are suffering at the moment and give them some space to grieve as well."

Police are investigating on behalf of the coroner alongside a Worksafe inquiry.

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