White Island Tours have recommenced trips to Moutohorā/Whale Island for the first time since the Whakaari/White Island tragedy.

CEO Tracey Hook said while it was a positive step forward in providing certainty and employment for staff, the recommencement would also be a sombre and emotional occasion.

"Tourism is an important contributor for our local economy and our staff are eager to get back to work," Hook said.

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No prohibitions had been placed on Moutohorā following the eruption, but the tour had been temporarily ceased out of respect for the victims, staff and affected families.

The eruption of Whakaari/White Island on December 9 killed 20 people. The bodies of two of those victims - 40-year-old Kiwi Hayden Marshall-Inman and 17-year-old Australian Winona Langford - remain unaccounted for.

Moutohorā Island is jointly managed by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa and Te Papa Atawhai through Te Tapatoru a Toi and is a designated Wildlife Management Reserve.

The pest-free island is home to a number of New Zealand's rare and endangered plants, birds and reptiles.

"This is an important milestone for not just our staff but also the broader Whakatāne community," Hook said.

"We thank everyone locally, nationally and internationally for their support. Our hearts and prayers remain firmly with the families who were and continue to be affected by this tragedy."

Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner said it was a smart compromise given the timing, while they awaited to see what happened with the decisions about Whakaari/White Island.

The White Island Tours team were a close-knit group like family, she said.

"They have all felt intensely what has happened," she said.


"That company is the better for being able to hold on to as many staff as they can through this crisis."

They certainly had the capacity in staffing and boats to consider other off-shore islands that were accessible from Whakatāne, she said.

There was a whole lots of options that could be developed if it was deemed unsafe to return to White Island, she said.

"The sensitivities around the issue are complex."

She said the company had shown commitment to getting it right.