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Signs identifying Whakatāne as gateway to Whakaari still in place

This Gateway to White Island sign on Landing Road is one of several dotted around the district.
This Gateway to White Island sign on Landing Road is one of several dotted around the district. Photo: LDR

More than three and a half years after the horror of the Whakaari-White Island eruption, signs identifying Whakatāne as the gateway to the volcano are still in place.

Now Whakatāne District Council says, despite differing views, the signs will be gone by summer.

While it is still possible to book a scenic flight over the volcano, it is not currently possible to set foot on the island and White Island Tours has said it will not be returning to the island.

The tourism company pleaded guilty to charges by Worksafe NZ of failing to meet their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 in the lead up to the eruption.

In 2018, Whakatāne District Council installed several signs, located at the entrances to the Whakatāne district, along Landing and Domain roads, and in Ōhope, co-funded by Waka Kotahi to highlight the town's point of difference as a tourist destination.

A Whakatāne resident who asked not to be named, said the signs were insensitive and a constant reminder to those who had been harmed by the eruption of the events.

"They are everywhere. I see at least four of them each day when I drive to work and you can't not see them."

Whakatāne District Council strategy and transformation general manager Steven Perdia said it had been a complex time.

"We have been caught between those who want to move on and not be reminded of the volcano, and those who don't want it forgotten or still see Whakatāne as the gateway to Whakaari."

However, he said progress was being made toward making a decision about the future of the signs.

"Conversations have started again with key stakeholders and iwi partners to progress the removal of the signs, and we expect the work to be completed ahead of next summer."

The small volcanic island's owners were now the main defendants in a trial over health and safety failings in the lead up to the deadly eruption in December 2019.

WorkSafe opened the trial's proceedings Tuesday in Auckland.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air