STOP PRESS – White Island volcano erupts

I’m interrupting the chronological flow of this blog to report a shocking piece of news. White Island volcano, which we visited on 20 October, has erupted.

Happier times: White Island volcano at the time of our visit, 20 October 2019

As I sit here – at 7:45am, 9 December 2019 – writing this, snug in my dressing gown with a steaming mug of tea at my side, the BBC News website leads with the headline One dead in NZ volcano, with number ‘likely to rise’.

Here’s a link to the post I published shortly after our visit. Reading it again, I can see that when we went White Island we were a bit glib and complacent. Yes, we were made aware of the dangers: we were required to sign a disclaimer, instructed to wear hard hats while on the island and issued with gas masks. But neither we, nor any of the others on our tour, believed for a moment that anything bad could or would happen. Bad things don’t happen to good people, do they?

And those poor souls who visited White Island earlier today wouldn’t have believed it either. They, like us, would have regarded a visit to New Zealand’s most active volcano as a little adventure, a bit of a laugh maybe.

But nobody’s laughing now. Except, maybe, nature herself. Nature always has the last laugh. Nature makes the rules, and we are subject to her whims and capriciousness. That is the way it is, and the way it should be. We’re all just guests here in nature’s garden, guests on this beautiful, crazy, brutal planet.

I’m reminded also of the role of chance in our lives, and our deaths. We could have been on White Island today. The timing of our trip to New Zealand was determined to maximise our chances of seeing Fiordland Crested Penguins. Without that driver, without our goal of laying eyes on that particular species of bird, we might have visited New Zealand a few weeks later, when the weather is kinder.

In a parallel universe, one where birding doesn’t shape our travel plans, we could have been on White Island today, terrified and in mortal peril as the volcano blew its top.

The story is still emerging, but our thoughts are with the tourists and tour operators who got caught up in today’s White Island tragedy, with those who were injured, and with the families and friends of the deceased. It’s a very sad day, and takes a bit of gloss off the memories of our New Zealand adventure.

Link to the emerging story on the BBC news website, 8:30am

Link to updated story on BBC news website, 3:40pm

8 thoughts on “STOP PRESS – White Island volcano erupts

  1. Annie December 9, 2019 / 9:03 am

    I was just reading about it in the Guardian when your post came through. And also all the problems caused by bad weather in South Island. Glad you’re home safe and sound.


    • Platypus Man December 9, 2019 / 9:22 am

      Yes, what a shock, we’re a bit dazed by the thought of it. Notwithstanding this terrible news we had a great trip and have some fantastic memories of NZ. Nearly over the jet-lag at last. Have a great Christmas!


  2. Trisha Hill December 9, 2019 / 11:41 am

    Hi David

    Thanks for sending this. I was trying to remember if you had visited this volcano. It’s a terrible tragedy and as you say an important reminder of the ultimate power of nature.

    Many thanks for all the blogs.


    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man December 9, 2019 / 3:23 pm

      Hi Trisha
      We’re still recovering from the shock. It feels like a lucky escape, though in reality we missed it by several weeks. Glad you’ve liked the blogs.


  3. Ms. Liz December 9, 2019 / 8:19 pm

    I was shocked to read online yesterday about the eruption and very sad there were fatalities and serious injuries. I’m somewhat relieved to hear that you and other tourists were warned about the risk of visiting and the danger wasn’t glossed over or hidden. I said to my OH this morning that if someone had offered me a free ticket I think I would’ve visited. Now that I know what can happen I wouldn’t take the risk of a visit. My thoughts are with all those affected. – Liz from lower South Island, NZ.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man December 10, 2019 / 7:45 am

      Although we were made aware of the risks, we’d already paid for our tickets (via our UK agent, months earlier) so were committed to going. I’m not sure what would have happened if we’d simply turned up at the office to book and pay on the morning of our trip, unclear what would have been pointed out to us before money changed hands. I think we all assumed that the trip had been risk-assessed and that the risks were deemed low enough to go ahead, and I’m absolutely sure that the operators wouldn’t have gone ahead if they believed there was a serious risk to life and limb. Until yesterday the White Island volcano had been fairly benign for a number of years, so perhaps there was a degree of complacency on all sides? Or perhaps the key point is that, however much tourists and tour operators might wish it to be otherwise, volcanoes are inherently unpredictable and potentially lethal. Volcanology is far from being an exact science, meaning that any monitoring system and any risk assessment based on that system should be viewed with a degree of caution. I heard on the BBC News a few minutes ago that NZ Police are looking into it, so no doubt we’ll learn more over the weeks ahead.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. tanjabrittonwriter December 11, 2019 / 3:44 am

    I was also saddened by this news about the loss of life due to this eruption. It’s such a poignant reminder of the forces beyond our control.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man December 11, 2019 / 6:54 am

      Yes, very true. Cocooned in our snug little houses we’ve become complacent about the power of nature … until an event like this, or a hurricane or an earthquake, reminds us that we’re not really the ones in charge.

      Liked by 1 person

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