LATEST: Six bodies have been successfully recovered from Whakaari / White Island and are now on board HMNZS Wellington, police have said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was speaking to ABC Radio National in Australia, providing an update on the recovery mission on Whakaari / White Island.
"We are in the middle of the operation and have had defence force personnel [on the island] since 7.20am.
"The role is to get those who have perished on the island and have them returned ... we just want to bring everyone home."
There was enough equipment on the island for the "smallish team" to be there for several hours, but there was also a need to be as fast as possible in the recovery.
Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement said in a statement this morning: "The recovery team is in the area where we believe the majority of the bodies are.
"The operation is taking more time than expected, this is due to the protective equipment the recovery team is wearing which can be restrictive and heavy but is necessary.
"Conditions for the operation are good in regard to the weather, sea state and the environment on the island."
Police say a progress report on how the body recovery team on the island is doing will be provided later today.
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"We have operators on the ground and over the next few hours, they will be undertaking the task of recovering the bodies."
A vessel carrying victims' representatives travelled towards the island also - a trip that was said to be very emotional for those on board.
"I've had it relayed to me it was very emotional, as you would expect," a police officer said.
"For those that don't come from this place, they saw something of the New Zealand culture and understand the way that we are.
"It's very deeply emotional for everybody involved, including the police staff involved."
Authorities said that vessel was not closer than a kilometre.
"They had to move away from the island because we've started the recovery and we have to focus on that job."
Meanwhile, grieving whanau and friends of the victims have made their way to Mataatua Marae from Whakatane wharf following after blessing the island this morning.
A NZME. reporter said there were emotional scenes at the wharf, with some carrying photos of their loved ones and others singing waiata.
Vivienne Wilson, of Ngati Awa, is sitting across from the marae. Her nephew was on the island when it erupted but was not injured. She made the trip from Rotorua to her home town of Whakatāne today.
She said through tears this was "really very tragic".
"I just feel for the whānau ... this is such a deep hurt, such a tragedy."
Wilson planned to continue sitting outside the marae to send aroha to the victims' families.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Newstalk ZB's Kerre McIvor that today remained an incredibly hard time for the victims' families.
She said she sympathised with the brother of tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, who had wanted himself to retrieve his body from White Island.
"I totally understand that, I would feel exactly the same," Ardern said.