A week after White Island erupted, killing 16 people, Alanah Eriksen visits a town in mourning.

White Island can barely be seen from shore in the grey distance and any smoke spewing from its top is covered by cloud.

It's as if the active volcano has hidden out of respect a week on from its eruption that claimed 16 lives - and counting - as the nation prepared to mark a minute's silence at 2.11pm.

For a tourist mecca during the week before Christmas, the Whakatāne Wharf is eerily quiet.

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Tamariki from Te Teko Kohanga Reo and locals have joined first responders at the wharf. Photo / Katee Shanks
Tamariki from Te Teko Kohanga Reo and locals have joined first responders at the wharf. Photo / Katee Shanks

Constant rain is a far cry from the typical sunny days the eastern Bay of Plenty is famous for.

Flowers tied to makeshift fencing set up around the stretch of the wharf where White Island Tours berths its boats are dying.

Balloons with messages of "hugs and kisses" emblazoned on them are popped.

Joe Harawira of Ngāti Awa speaks after people gathered at Te Manuka Tutahi marae in Whakatane today for a minute's silence for the victims of the White Island eruption. Video / Alan Gibson

A laminated photo of an entire family wiped out in the tragedy - Australians Martin, Barbara, Ben and Matthew Hollander - standing in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is pinned up, rain bouncing off it.

A lone security guard in an orange hi-vis vest paces up and down.

The Navy's imposing HMNZS Wellington can be seen slowly moving across the water near the island as experts continue to search for the two missing bodies. Six of the eight bodies left on the island were retrieved on Friday.

Further along is more makeshift fencing, more tributes and another lone security guard, this time in a yellow vest sitting on a bench holding an umbrella over his head.

Pieces of paper and bits of cardboard with poignant messages have fallen onto the ground, soggy from today's rain.

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People gather at Wharenui mataatua marae in Whakatane for a minute silence.
People gather at Wharenui mataatua marae in Whakatane for a minute silence.

A note sums up how some locals are feeling, their respect for the mountain unwavering.

"Huia whakaari has spoken. Now we must listen. For too long we have climbed all over her. Forgetting this island sticking out of the water is her sacred head, her mountainous body laying underneath the sea. On Monday she roared. She clutched people onto her very heart and took them. I truly believe she will continue to embrace them until we listen to her cry."

Across the road, inside the White Island Tours office, based at the White Island Rendezvous hotel, are several massive bunches of flowers.

A group of people stood in the driveway this morning, heads bowed, paying tribute to the company's two guides who died, Tipene Maangi and Hayden Marshall-Inman, as well as injured guides Kelsey Waghorn and Jake Milbank.

Further along, the road is Te Mānuka Tūtahi Marae, where Ngati Awa have invited family of loved ones who died to gather and grieve.

About 50 people were there this morning. A local guide says it's like "a rolling tea station" in the wharekai, with food also flowing.

He says it's a lot quieter today with many at Maangi's tangi at his ancestral marae "up the coast".

As more gather, they sit spread apart either in groups or alone, looking out the island. Photo / Cira Olivier
As more gather, they sit spread apart either in groups or alone, looking out the island. Photo / Cira Olivier

His body was released to family in Auckland yesterday morning after a post mortem had been completed. A convoy of whanau and Ngati Awa members travelled from the city, back through Whakatāne, and to Whangaparāoa on the East Cape to the marae.

People at the Whakatāne marae embrace. Some wear their distinctive White Island Tours blue and white-stripped uniform, despite the company in operational shut-down. It's their way of paying tribute to their colleagues.

People cry - just like the weather gods.

And just like Whakaari, as one tribute reads: "Although we are grieving lost souls, I believe she is too. The rivers of green translucent tears pouring from her into Tangaroa show us this."