He died selflessly trying to help others on White Island, but to the adoring grandmother who raised Tipene Maangi he will always be her "nanny boy".
Speaking to the Herald this morning from her Bay of Plenty home in Cape Runaway, Ngaroahiahi Patuwai Maangi said she could see the country's most active volcano "smoking up a storm".
She didn't mark yesterday's six-month anniversary of the deadly disaster but planned to visit her grandson's grave today to remember her beloved moko.
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"I really miss him - bloody good kid.
"There was just something about Tipene right from when he was a baby. I call him my nanny boy. The other mokos they call him that too."
The 24-year-old White Island tour guide lost his life six months ago when the volcano erupted on December 9.
A thick cloud of burning, toxic gas enveloped a tour party and 21 people ultimately lost their lives.
Despite suffering bad asthma, Maangi is understood to have gone without a gas mask as he helped others in the harrowing moments after the eruption.
As separate inquiries into the disaster continue, several survivors have hit out at the rescue response this week.
Australian woman Stephanie Browitt, 23, suffered burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her fingers. She also lost her sister Krystal, 21, and father Paul.
She told Australian media outlet Four Corners she was angry it took so long for rescuers to arrive.
"Now I realise the rescue actually wasn't coming. It was just three pilots who chose to risk their own lives to help us and, if they hadn't come, we'd all be gone.
"I know that if help had come sooner, there would probably be more people alive from our group."
A police spokesperson said the conditions on Whakaari/White Island on the afternoon of the eruption posed a significant risk to life so a decision was made to not allow craft or people onto the island.
"The eruption and subsequent death and injury-related investigations are complex and continue to be thoroughly investigated. We are unable to comment further due to the active investigations and Coroner's inquest."
Patuwai Maangi said it was tough call for authorities whether to send rescue helicopters direct to the island in the immediate aftermath of the eruption.
"You saw that helicopter that was burnt. I don't know if that would have made a difference. That's a hard one.
"They just shouldn't have been there at all."
She remembers feeling shock, anger and hope in the early days of the response. Anger that Maangi had been on an active volcano in the first place, and hope that he had found a cave to shelter in and was still alive.
It was devastating to learn he had perished but there was some comfort that his body had been recovered. The body of Maangi's colleague and friend Hayden Marshall-Inman was never found.
Patuwai Maangi said the pain was still there today but not as raw.
"Every day it's with you. It never leaves you. I just had to get on with it. You can't bring him back.
"He's still in my heart. I've still got his clothes here. I've got a lot of photos everywhere. I've got some of his shoes."
Maangi, who loved "conversing with people", was excited when he got the part-time White Island Tours job in October last year. But Patuwai Maangi wanted him to finish his degree and become a teacher.
"I told him to get a real job. But it didn't happen, did it?"
As they waited for news from the island, she spent hours at her grandson's flat preparing a folder of his important documents, photos and school reports, still holding on to hope he would be found alive.
"When they brought them back in those body bags we were at the airport and they brought them into a tent.
"We didn't know who was who. I just touched every one of those boxes. I had flowers. That's when I heard that they didn't bring Hayden back."
Patuwai Maangi feels for Marshall-Inman's family and thinks of him whenever she walks on the beach.
She is thankful for the cards sent by strangers expressing love and support, which helped her through the early stages of grief.
"But I was just angry at the time and I just wanted them to get out there and get him off the island. I didn't care [about the danger]. If I'd had a boat I would have shot out there and I know there were a few locals who wanted to do that too.
"At least I got him back and that was my aim from the start."
Patuwai Maangi hopes the police, WorkSafe and coroner's inquiries will be completed soon. She does not want to read them but plans to take them to Maangi's grave and "bury them with him".
Fellow guide Jake Millbank, 19, suffered severe burns in the eruption and has spent months in hospital recovering.
His father Steve told the Herald he believed rescue personnel did as much as they could in the face of an unprecedented disaster.
"I think the rescue guys did a pretty good job. Jake wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. It was a big event. They just didn't have enough rescue helicopters in the North Island to ferry the number of wounded off the island. I don't think they could have done a lot more."
His son was "battling away" but faced many more surgeries.
"He's here and standing. That's all I'm worried about."