Te Rūnunga o Ngāti Awa might have earned a gross $4.5 million a year from its White Island Tours, contributing to the rūnunga's rising $13.1m annual revenue for the latest financial year.

Ngāti Awa's annual report for the year to June 30, 2019 showed group revenue up by $100,000 in the last year and it declared group assets of $149.8m, slightly down on last year's $150m.

Although the tour business revenue is not split out in the accounts, Ngāti Awa Group Holdings' chairman Paul Quinn said this week it had 17,500 clients annually. White Island Tours was until Monday advertising ticket prices of $229/adult till next March and $130/child, although Ovation of the Seas cruise ships passengers paid just under $500/each as adults to buy the tour.

Their ship was docked at Tauranga, so their price included transport to and from Whakatane to board White Island Tours.


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Those figures give a possible $4.5m annual gross revenue but the company had massive capital expenditure in the latest period, having just bought a 19m 49-passenger new vessel designed by Teknicraft in Auckland and built by Q-West in Whanganui.

White Island Tours was incorporated in 2005 and its directors are Debbie Birch of Wellington, Anthony Edward De Farias of Ohope and Bernard Paul Quinn of Auckland's Metropolis apartments, the Companies Office says.

The tour company is wholly owned by Ngāti Awa Group Holdings of Whakatane.

The company only got the new catamaran in April this year. Photo / file
The company only got the new catamaran in April this year. Photo / file

The latest annual report had a page on Te Puia Whakaari, the new catamaran which it had built to be less weather-affected on volcanic tour runs. That boat took 12 months to design and built and was delivered in April, the report said.

Quinn wrote in his chairman's report his year: "There has been a substantial improvement in the performance of the Whakaari/White Island Tours business during the reporting period such that on a financial basis we achieved a small profit on this investment.

"In April, we took delivery of our new vessel and it was pleased to be able to report that it has been performing up to expectations. This includes the ability to sail more days in a month because of the weather tolerance capability being greater than the existing fleet."

The company was planning to replace all its fleet, copying the new catamaran.

Today in Whakatane at dawn. Photo / Alan Gibson
Today in Whakatane at dawn. Photo / Alan Gibson

"As the remaining fleet reaches the end of its useful life, we propose standardising the fleet on the Te Puia Whakaari model. This will drive a number of efficiencies with the business, not least being one stock of spare parts," Quinn wrote.

In line with tangata whenua aspirations, the company said it was pleased to report that 25 per cent of the staff employed by the tour business were Ngāti Awa, up from a base of 5 per cent at the time the boat was bought.

The annual report also covered the company's landing license, saying it was exclusive and had a final useful life. Under amortisation, the report said "Whakaari/White Island Landing License 18 years".

The landing license was also mentioned under the company's goodwill.

"Goodwill has arisen on the purchase of White Island Tours," the report said, referred to the company's 2017 purchase from the previous owners Peter and Jenny Tait.

Whakaari/White Island was privately owned and "legally its status is that of a private reserve", the report said, without specifically mentioning Auckland's Buttle family whose company owns the island.

Beverley Buttle told the Herald this week she received an income because the tour operator paid the family business a royalty to visit and she received a share of that.

"They pay me a retainer," Buttle said.

White Island on Monday. Photo / White Island Flights
White Island on Monday. Photo / White Island Flights

The family planned to keep the island and Buttle cited a number of grandchildren.

"It will stay in the family. It's most unusual to own a volcano. People always found it fascinating to visit," she said.

One Whakatane man claimed the Buttles were paid around 49 per cent of ticket income but neither the company nor the Buttles confirmed that.

"Jenny Tait once told me that the Buttles took 49 per cent of the ticket purchase price. This coupled with the number of cancellations due to bad weather, would make the business very difficult to operate successfully and would explain why the ticket price has more than doubled it the past 10 to 15 years," the man said.

"Ngāti Awa, and indeed Whakatane, has much to lose if island access is further restricted," he said. The 2017 tour company's sale price has never been revealed but the man said it was around $10.5m.

And in what might now seem ironic, White Island Tours cited its commitment to health and safety of all its staff and clients.

The report stressed the company's emphasis on safety.

"We place a high priority on ensuring all our employees, contractors and visitors return home safely every day. This property saw our Whakaari/White Island Tours and wider management team receive the Safe365 2018 Safest Place to Word Award for small business of 50 staff or below," the report said.