It came as a surprise to me that you could go ashore on our most active volcano. That little island on the horizon with its smoke rising, some days a wisp, other days a billow, was so visibly active it never crossed my mind you could walk on it.
I confess that when the awful happened my reaction was one of genuine awe that people took these tours, organised them and allowed them. It's so rare these days that we're permitted to be brave.
The tourists who perished on White Island were not setting out to be brave of course. They would have ventured into the crater with trepidation. But the risk of an eruption would have seemed low enough to be worth the experience.
And they were right, the risk for an individual visitor would have been very low, though the risk of an eruption when somebody was on the island must have been quite high. The collective risk will be what counts when guardians of our safety review the event.
• White Island eruption: Burned tour guides out of coma, breathing on own
• White Island eruption: Sydney teen faces finding out his entire immediate family has died
• White Island tragedy: Mother and daughter die in bitter twist of fate
• Memorial service for White Island tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman
We don't need a review of the safety of this sort of tourism as much as we need a full-scale inquiry into emergency services dominated by a culture of safety first.
The courage of the tourists was eclipsed by those who immediately went to their rescue, but these were not our designated "first responders". These were private enterprise people with helicopters and boats. They did it instinctively. They did it because they could.
When they'd rescued everyone they could see and they knew eight people were still missing they wanted to go straight back. But those whose job it was to rescue people would not let them take the risk, and would not take the risk themselves.
Two days after the eruption, with the eight people still missing, Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims stood before television cameras and declared returning to the island was, "our number one priority". No, it wasn't.
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The safety of emergency personnel was their first priority. Tims went on to say they had developed a recovery plan and as soon as emergency personnel knew they could manage the risks they would return.
"Return" was not exactly true either. They hadn't been to the island yet. They're our paid, trained, professional and expensively equipped first responders and they hadn't done what Volcanic Air Safaris' helicopter pilot Tim Barrow and six other independent pilots did – go quickly to the rescue.
Barrow told the Herald he knew the risk and it was worth taking. "The island had done its thing, it had blown its top at that stage and if there was any opportunity to get those people out then we would try."
He flew from Rotorua and by the time he reached the island he knew official emergency choppers were being restrained. "I determined it a worthwhile risk to fly in and land on the crater floor," he said. "It was carnage when we got to the centre. It was steamy, it was quite hard to breathe. The gas masks were invaluable."
Barrow knew he was breaking Civil Aviation's rules but would do the same again. He said, "When something like this is happening, as much as we're trying to be safe, we're not pulling the rule book out."
If only our emergency services operated with the same courage and common sense. By the time they'd devised a plan to "manage the risk", drawn maps of the crater and outfitted themselves in heat-resistant orange suits, three days had passed, as had any prospect of saving severely burned people.
It was no longer a rescue but a (body) recovery mission. It was all too reminiscent of Pike River, 2010, when the so-called Mines Rescue Service wouldn't, or wasn't allowed, to put on breathing gear and go straight in to look for any survivors because the mine could have exploded again.
Of course there are risks in rescuing people under these conditions but, forgive me, I thought we set up these agencies to take them.
I suppose it's the managers of emergency services who operate by the safety-first rule book and believe they must do so for the sake of their front-line staff. But they also fear they'll be blamed if something goes wrong, which they will be.
Brave managers take that risk. Nobody will call them heroes if all goes well, they're on a hiding to nothing. Only they know the courage they needed.
From Pike River at the beginning of the decade to White Island at the end, government officials have been averse to risk. Jacinda Ardern may be the last person likely to change that culture but somebody must.
Sadly, we're more likely to see awesome tourism reined in. Caution rules.