Five people have died after a tourist bus rolled in bad weather earlier today on State Highway 5 at Ngātira, near Rotorua.
Two others were seriously injured when the bus rolled and came to rest on its side.
Inspector Brent Crowe told reporters this afternoon that 27 people were on the bus, and five on board had lost their lives as a result of the crash.
Two other people were seriously injured, and a further four received moderate injuries. The remainder were injured to a lesser extent or were able to walk away from the scene.
State Highway 5 reopened around 7.30pm, about eight hours after the crash.
Crowe said the medium-sized tour bus had been carrying Chinese nationals.
"As you can understand this is a very traumatic event for all concerned, it has very far-reaching consequences and as a result our ethnic liaison team, including some Chinese speaking officers and Victim Support, are wrapped around the victims to provide them with the best possible care," he said.
Police are also working with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Chinese Consulate to notify the next of kin.
"The Serious Crash Unit and the Commercial Vehicle Safety team are still at the scene seeking clues as to why this tragic event has occurred," he said.
He sent his condolences to all those affected, and said the incident was an absolute tragedy.
Most of those on board the bus are understood to be from China's Sichuan province.
The wounded were treated for injuries at the scene and others flown to hospitals around the North Island.
Crowe said the bus was travelling south towards Rotorua and failed to take a moderate bend. As a result it went to the wrong side of the road, corrected and subsequently flipped.
The driver is believed not to be seriously injured, and the bus was the only vehicle involved in the incident.
Crowe said he could not answer whether the passengers were wearing seatbelts or not, this would be part of the ongoing investigation.
He also said it was too early to say whether any charges would be laid.
Crowe said work is still ongoing on the recovery phase, including a crane which was being brought in to lift the bus.
The main focus now was the recovery of the deceased, he said.
"This is still very much in an evolving recovery stage … We've got to do this meticulously carefully and with respect for those that have lost their lives," he said.
Crowe said the road is reasonably hilly, has a number of curves, and the weather was unfavourable with high winds, rain and fog at the time of the incident.
He said the Bay of Plenty region had had a terrible year for road tragedies.
"I think the aroha from the Rotorua community will shine through and we will assist these people to recovery," Crowe said.
Crash site chaos:
Bishnal Basnet, who was travelling with his brother and uncle from Te Puke to Hamilton, was among the first people on the scene.
The crash site, he said, was chaos with people screaming and crying and trying to get off the bus in heavy rain.
He carried an Asian woman in her fifties on his back away from the bus before the emergency services arrived after 10 or 15 minutes.
He stayed at the crash site directing traffic for about an hour.
Another witness said the bus windscreen was shattered and people were sitting down by the coach.
Survivors emerged from the crash site wrapped in blankets and being comforted by police officers.
Amanda Roberts arrived at the crash scene at the same time as the first fire engine and said she saw the white bus on its side in a ditch.
It did not appear otherwise damaged and there was no glass on the road.
Between six and eight people were outside the bus, including a couple who "didn't look too good", she said.
The stretch of State Highway 5 where the bus had crashed was windy and the bus had rolled while approaching a bend.
The wet road had been "quite treacherous" this morning and most people had been driving carefully, Roberts said.
A police officer said they arrived at the site and found "people everywhere".
"It is a major crash, we've got people everywhere, you can't come any closer at the moment," he said.
Five helicopters and three ambulances were sent to the crash scene between Waiohotu and Galaxy Rds.
A reporter at the scene said traffic was initially backed up for hundreds of metres and drivers were being asked to turn around.
There had been persistent rain throughout the morning at the site, which is a 20-minute drive from Rotorua and there are patches of light surface flooding on the road.
Large number of injuries:
Some survivors were taken to Rotorua's ambulance base, including one man who was limping heavily and had to be helped into a wheelchair. About 10 people were taken from a minivan into the building.
St John ambulance said one patient in a serious condition and one in a moderate condition were airlifted to Waikato Hospital.
Another person with moderate injuries was flown to Tauranga Hospital, while three patients in moderate to minor conditions were taken by road to Rotorua Hospital.
Another 15 patients have been transported to a triage area for further assessment.
The Red Cross has activated a disaster welfare and support team in Rotorua and were "currently supporting people affected by the recent bus crash, providing psychological first aid assistance".
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick described the crash as "absolutely tragic" and vowed Rotorua would do whatever it could to help.
"At the request of the police, Rotorua Lakes Council is providing any welfare assistance needed for passengers who were not injured. That could include anything from providing food and translation services to liaising with accommodation providers and enabling them to contact family," Chadwick said.
"This is a police-led operation and council staff, under the direction of civil defence staff, are assisting as required."
A Lakes DHB spokeswoman said Rotorua Hospital received a large number of the people from the bus crash on State Highway 5 this morning.
She said they were being assessed and treated in the Emergency Department.
"Lakes DHB has been working closely with the Police, St John and Civil Defence. The focus for all agencies is on the support and welfare of these patients," she said.
As the Rotorua Hospital Emergency Department is busy dealing with this incident, residents who need medical treatment, and it is not an emergency, are asked to see a GP or Lakes Primecare.
Lakes DHB said in a media release it had prepared for casualties at Rotorua Hospital.
An emergency operations centre was set up and clinical teams were ready.
As of last night this year's road toll was 231, compared to 257 at the same time last year.
Fatal bus crashes
• On Christmas Eve 2016 a bus crash killed three people from Tonga; Sione Taumalolo, 11, and Talita Moimoi, 33, died at the scene. Leotisia Malakai, 55, died eight days later in hospital.
The bus had been carrying 53 people from Tonga's Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College brass band when it plunged down a bank near Gisborne about 10.30pm.
• On February 7, 1963, 15 people died after a bus crashed in the Brynderwyn Hills.
The bus brakes suddenly failed, sending the group plummeting down a sheer cliff face.
Fourteen passengers died instantly, another later that day. The remaining passengers suffered varying injuries from cuts and fractures to severe and paralysing spinal injuries.
It remains the worst road crash in New Zealand.
2019's horror crashes
• Eight people died in a horrific crash on State Highway 1 near Ohakuri Rd, Atiamuri, on April 28 this year.
Margaret "Margs" Luke, 35, and David Wiremu Poutawa, 42, were both killed in the crash alongside five of their children; Trinity Luke, 13, Chanley Poutawa, 11, Jahnero Poutawa, 10, Akacia Poutawa, 8, and Khyus Poutawa, 7.
The couple's 9-year-old son was the sole survivor of the crash.
Scouts manager Jenny Rodgers also died in the crash, bringing the crash toll to eight.
• Five members of the same family were killed after a car slammed into a gum tree, on Tirohanga Rd, south of Kinleith on April 1, 2019.
Those who died in the crash were Peter Senior Rangikataua, 44, from Rotorua, his nephew Rangi Rangikataua, 26, from Mokai and Peter's three daughters Michelle Morgan-Rangikataua, 15, Aroha Morgan-Rangikataua, 14, and Kahukura Morgan-Rangikataua, 12.
Their 11-year-old brother, Isaac Morgan-Rangikataua survived the crash.