Four days since the deadly eruption on Whakaari, at 2.11pm on Monday, Anna Leask sees the families of those left behind on the volcano gather, cry and stare out to sea to where their loved ones are.
The men sit, waiting, watching.
Their eyes focused on the horizon, on the constant billow of white pouring upward to the sky.
Their faces drawn — a combination of distress, grief, frustration and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.
Fifty kilometres away, their boys wait too.
But their boys feel, see, hear nothing.
Their boys were killed on White Island when the volcano erupted on Monday.
All the men want is their boys home, to pull them from their graves of ash, to touch their faces, to hold them one last time, to say goodbye.
For four days — and maybe four or more longer — the men have waited, separated from their sons by that stretch of ocean.
Part of them is on White Island and the hurt they are feeling by being separated is inexplicable.
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It's hard to watch and it's hard to comprehend how a human heart survives such pain.
But that is what we have done for the past four days in Whakatāne.
We've watched the families of those left behind on White Island gather, cry, stare out to sea in agony.
We've seen a steady stream of locals meander down to the wharf which has become a makeshift memorial to those lost on Monday.
They bring flowers, the only thing they can think to do to mark the sombre occasion and show they care.
And Whakatāne cares, deeply.
The tragedy has touched them all in some way.
It's supposed to be a town gearing up for another idyllic Kiwi summer, an influx of tourists and holidaymakers.
But it's a town in utter mourning, struggling to process what has happened to a handful of their own and a group of travellers who should have had the day of their lives on White Island and returned to tell their tale.
A woman in a fish and chip shop near the wharf says it's bizarre to see the boats still.
Most days there is a constant flurry of movement, but for the past four days there has been nothing.
White Island is a big part of the local economy and without the boat and chopper tours, the diving expeditions, she wonders how the town will survive.
She says the town may lose much more than just people.
But the people are the priority.
The names Tipene Maangi and Hayden Inman are on everyone's minds and lips this week.
Most people in Whakatāne know one or both, a mother, a father, a cousin.
In small towns everyone has a connection to a tragedy like this and it's felt so keenly. You can see it in almost every face, the forced but genuine smiles, the sadness in people's eyes.
From the baristas fuelling the hoard of international media with endless coffees to the security guards manning the cordon down from the wharf, the overwhelming tragedy is the story that can be read on everyone's face.
And conversation turns to White Island.
"Isn't it terrible."
"God, I feel for those families."
"We just need to get them home."
What happened on Monday has ripped the heart from Whaktāne and I dare say the wound it has created in this community will never heal.
The locals are lost for words, but what they do want to say is posted in poignant notes at the cordon.
"Come home Tip."
"May the volcano calm and our people come home."
"My heart hurts for the people who have lost loved ones."
'The bravery takes my breath away'
I have been a journalist for almost 15 years and I have covered more than my fair share of mass fatalities.
The Christchurch quake.
The March 15 terror attack.
And now, White Island.
Each of these events been punctuated with tremendous grief, unfathomable sadness, a deep, enduring and hollowing sense of 'why?'.
Bearing witness to ordinary Kiwis losing so much never gets easier.
But what gets me through is the moments of unadulterated humanity.
The boatie who left White Island minutes before the explosion only to sprint back on to the land to help rescue visitors.
The pilots who dropped everything and flew into the actual face of death to carry 12 people away to safety.
Some of those died in the air in front of them as they made the desperate return flight to the mainland.
The man who saw his mate lying with critical injuries, hauled him onto a rise and said he would come back for him.
But he couldn't, and he now lives knowing his mate died out there soon after.
The bravery takes my breath away. It's the thing that makes me feel the most in times like this, the stories of the ordinary people who risk everything to do extraordinary things for others.
It's humbling. It's astonishing. And there are never any real words that I can cobble together to really convey what their actions mean.
The silence of mourning
It's quiet out here at the end of Muriwai Rd today.
The media pack have dispersed somewhat with the arrival of Police Minister Stuart Nash, the impending visit from the health minister and the changing of the guard in police to Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement.
The hum of journalism has died down and now the lapping of the tide and the sharp cries of seagulls are really the only things that interrupt the silence.
The sun beats down and the sea breeze shifts from brisk to soothing throughout the day, carrying with it a scent that is a combination of the ocean and the fragrance of lilies, sunflowers, daffodils and other blooms that adorn the temporary fencing of the cordon.
To anyone who didn't know, the space would be postcard perfect, the epitome of a New Zealand landscape.
But to those of us on the ground it's a place of mourning, of immense and unrelenting heartache.