Paul Catmur writes about his experiences on the first fishing charter to return to White Island since the deadly December eruption.
It was 2am am on Tracker II anchored in a small bay, just off White Island.
I was on the late shift looking to catch live bait for the next day's fishing.
The night was calm with only the snores from below and a single malt for company.
I stood watching as the clouds of smoke continued to roll down lazily from the volcano and spread across the sky in the light of the full moon.
The sulphur fumes had done little to settle stomachs left queasy after a bumpy three hour crossing from the mainland.
The sea made its own contribution to the mood as clouds of deposits washed off the island by the tide swirled underneath the boat.
A couple of juvenile kingfish joined me and cruised through the cloudy water to see what this boat was doing invading their domain.
The last time I'd been here, anchored in the same bay, we'd spent the night surrounded by sea life.
Flying fish had hurled themselves aboard to be caught aloft in landing nets by waiting fishermen.
We'd hauled up squid after squid attracted by the undersea lights on the boat.
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But this time, apart from the kingfish, the sea life stayed away and the live bait tank was practically empty.
I'd booked the charter with a group of friends several months previously, because as well as being the most accessible live volcano in New Zealand, White Island is also home to one of the best recreational fishing grounds in the country, famed for the size and abundance of the tough scrapper known in the antipodes as the kingfish.
After the tragic events of the December the 9th we had been doubtful that the charter would be running at all.
There was a rāhui placed on the island and nobody was allowed near it.
I contacted the charter company several times anticipating a cancellation, but no, they assured me it was going ahead.
Amongst ourselves questions were raised. Was it disrespectful? Was it dangerous? Would there be any fish there, and if there were, would they be poisonous?
The local TV news reported on the plight of the local charter boats and how their business had been decimated.
We decided that if they were happy with us going, then so were we.
A week before our trip the rāhui was lifted and there was no turning back. It wasn't until we were on the boat that Jason, the skipper, told us that what with the rāhui and a number of cancellations we were the first charter to go back.
We weren't allowed to keep fish caught within a kilometre of the island, but the fishing grounds were out deeper anyway. We'd fish out wide, but would use the shelter of the island to anchor for the night.
We'd arrived in the dark, but dawn rose and revealed the ruins of the buildings destroyed by the partial collapse of the crater one night in 1914.
The island's population at the time, 10 workers collecting sulphur, had never been seen again.
The only survivor that night was the camp cat who must have used up a few of his lives.
We could also see the abandoned helicopter standing incongruously amidst the desolation.
I'd previously visited the island a few years before, possibly by that very helicopter, and had walked with a small group amid the steaming vents and odd-coloured pools.
"What if it goes off?" I'd asked the guide who shrugged and looked away, a very Kiwi response to potential disaster.
Danger is not just the price you pay for adventure tourism it is, to be honest, part of the attraction in itself.
Do you want to wander quietly, serenely, about marble halls gazing at past treasures? Or do you want to visit places where possible misjudgment or more likely ill fortune, however remote, can lead to tragedy?
You pays your money and you makes your choice.
Nature had shrugged off the eruption. The gannet colonies were somehow still there perched on grassy cliffs just a couple of hundred metres from the crater.
Despite the paucity of our bait fish and some very shy kingfish there was still plenty of life around the island and we returned with a good haul.
Jason and his deckhand, Kaden, had fished on the weekend leading up to the 2019 eruption.
On the Saturday they'd had a great day's fishing so they couldn't understand on the Sunday why they'd had barely a bite.
On Monday the volcano had spewed its destruction.
After the 3 hour trip back to Whakatāne Jason told us that the clients for their next trip had just rung up and cancelled.
That's a shame. Should you have the chance to go out with a White Island charter, please do it.
You're helping to bring life back to a community which has had some hard times but needs support to fight back.
It's also an amazing if, at times, sombre experience.
We also left some fish out there for you.