A day of tragedy, pain, love and remembrance has come to the fore as Whakatāne's community gathered in preparation of the first anniversary of Whakaari White Island's eruption tomorrow.
East Coast iwi Ngāti Awa welcomed media on to Mataatua Marae this afternoon ahead of the commemorations.
Whakaari White Island erupted on December 9 last year. Twenty-two people died in the days, weeks and months after super-heated, highly corrosive volcanic materials exploded from the volcano's crater.
Tomorrow victims' families, survivors and first responders will gather to commemorate the eruption and observe a minute's silence at 2.11pm, the time of the eruption.
Today Ngāti Awa representatives and the Whakatāne mayor spoke to media ahead of the commemorations.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa Tumuaki (chairman) Joe Harawira said the tragedy "weighs heavily on the iwi".
"Our role as kaitiaki of our whare of the rohe is to support in whatever way we can.
"We are one year into this tragic event and I think that healing has been happening every day for the community and the families as well."
He said the iwi had kept in touch with ambassadors of the countries of those affected by the tragedy and had asked victims to record or write a message to be played or read at tomorrow's commemorations.
Harawira recalled the day of the eruption and the news of bravery, heroism, survival and heartbreak.
"December 9, 2019 is now part of our history, that fateful day embedded in our minds and in our hearts.
"When tragedy struck Ngāti Awa as mana whenua felt a responsibility to act. We did what we could ... We held hands and wrapped our arms around strangers. An entire community brought to a standstill."
He thanked the people who helped support visitors.
"Your kindness is not forgotten."
Harawira said tomorrow, on the anniversary, they would join together to pray for victims and survivors and pray for healing.
"For many, this will be a long journey back to good health and though the scars on your skin may have begun to heal it may take longer for hearts and minds to heal."
He said it was a day of tragedy, pain, love and remembrance and offering comfort and solace.
"If we can bring some comfort to everyone who is hurt and grieving then we fulfil our roles as kaitiaki."
Mayor Judy Turner said the anniversary was a chance for Kiwis to come together as a nation to "remember and reflect".
She said the community's thoughts were with those whose lives were lost and those injured on December 9 last year.
She said the eruption "shook us to the core" but they were "eternally grateful" to the healthcare professionals for their help that day and to this day.
"It is clear we will never be the same."
Turner said the community had carried on but there was still a rawness.
"I remember the first time there was a documentary that included a section on Whakaari, I was kind of interested and I found I couldn't watch it.
"I was surprised at this little bit of rawness still under the surface there and I don't know how long it will take for that to go, I'm not sure I want it to go because it's a tragedy that's now part of our history.
"We feel we have turned a corner but ... [we] can't leave behind what's happened."
Turner said she didn't believe the tragedy would define New Zealand tourism but said: "Nothing we say or do will counter the devastation and loss that survivors and families that lost loved ones have had to live with every day since Monday, December 9, 2019".
"Tomorrow we will pause and reflect on what took place, remember those who passed, think of the survivors, thank those who responded, acknowledge those who to continue to care for and support the injured and recognise the pain and suffering that still exists.
"The days, weeks and months following the eruption have had a significant impact on local communities ... However we continue to work on our district's recovery.
"We are hoping that tomorrow's shared events and reflections may help bring some healing and some comfort.
"The Whakatāne district will continue to welcome people to our area with open arms."
Bay of Plenty District Health Board interim chairwoman Sharon Shea acknowledged her staff and colleagues in the health system on a national level.
She said on a typical day, there were about six nurses and two doctors in the Whakatāne Hospital. But that day there were more than 200 people.
"These are people we should be proud of in New Zealand."
She said we must continue to support them and acknowledge their mana.