The Whakatane Heads is the place to be on a hot January day, the sea breeze takes the edge off the heat and the water is warm if you care to take a dip. I was expecting a rough sea, forecast after a South Pacific cyclone but instead found the surf school teaching young holiday makers at the river mouth.
50 km off shore, Whakaari White Island spewed steam into the clear Bay of Plenty sky, a constant reminder of the tragic December eruption which took 20 lives, 2 of whom are yet to be found.
It’s been a busy holiday season in the Whakatane area. Perfect weather has attracted visitors in droves but the island reminds us that families are suffering the loss and injury of their loved ones. Two young tour guides from Whakatane suffered horrific injuries in the eruption. Both are out of intensive care now and are on the mend but still undergoing regular surgeries. It will be months yet before they are well enough to go home.
The White Island Tours boats have been tied up at the wharf for over a month but have just started trips to Moutohora, Whale Island instead. Moutohora is a pest free wildlife sanctuary just a 15 minute boat ride from Whakatane. It’s home to tuatara, a remnant of the dinosaurs, the endangered tieke – saddle back and other birds and is a nursery for juvenile kiwi. I visited about 10 years ago soon after the restoration work began. It would be interesting to go back and see the progress.