At 2.11 p.m. local time, Monday 9 December, 2019, the volcano on White Island, also known as Whakaari, erupted without warning. At least 50 were in or around the crater and initial reports indicated at least five dead and say the death toll may rise.
White Island is about 50 kilometres north of New Zealand’s North Island. Volcanologists have been warning of danger for some years but the island has continued to be popular with adventurous tourists willing to don hard hats and gas masks.
Then, this last weekend on South Island, after slips left large stretches of Highway SH6 closed, almost 1,000 visitors to Franz Josef Glacier were stranded Sunday 8 December for at least five days.
Franz Josef Glacier, also known as Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere, is a 12 km- long temperate maritime glacier. The area surrounding it, and Fox Glacier, is part of Te Wahipounamu, a World Heritage site. Franz Josef Township has a population of only 300: its hotels range from NZ$38 to NZ$402 a night, but the problem right now is there are not nearly enough beds. Nearby towns of Wanaka and Haast, frequent tourist attractions, are also not accessible and may take many weeks to open. Air transport is being organised to assist.
“The impact on tourism, especially in the South Island during this peak time of the year, is likely to be extensive”, was the assessment, on Monday 9 December, of Franz Mascarenhas, MD of one of the country’s top luxury hotels, Cordis Auckland (part of Langham Hospitality Group). The good news is that the weather forecasts are favourable.