November 29, 2023

New Zealand volcano eruption: Royal Caribbean cruise nearby, other travel effects

By Sara M. Moniuszko From USA Today

A New Zealand volcanic island erupted in a tower of ash and steam while dozens of tourists were exploring the moon-like surface.

A volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island, also called Whakaari, is affecting travelers going to and from the area.

Fewer than 50 people were on the island when it erupted and 23 – including five dead – have been evacuated, said Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims. He was unsure of the exact number of people missing but said it was in the double digits.

Still more people are reported missing on the island but police said the situation remains too dangerous for search and rescue crews.

Videos and photos shared on social media show massive plumes of smoke coming off the volcanic island off the country’s northeast coast.

Travel does not seem to be affected on a larger scale, however.

As of 8 a.m. EST Monday, the eruption did not appear to be affecting flights, with no significant cancellations or delays in or out of Auckland, Wellington or Australia.

An image provided by visitor Michael Schade shows White Island (Whakaari) volcano, as it erupts, in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.

An image provided by visitor Michael Schade shows White Island (Whakaari) volcano, as it erupts, in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. (Photo: MICHAEL SCHADE, EPA-EFE)

According to Reuters and Newsweek, cruise line officials say some tourists on the island during Monday’s eruption were on a shore excursion to the area.

Royal Caribbean confirmed to the Associated Press that several passengers from the Ovation of the Seas were touring White Island on Monday.

In a statement provided to USA TODAY Monday by Royal Caribbean’s Director of Communications Melissa Charbonneau, the cruise line said it is “devastated by today’s events.”

“Our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy,” the statement continued. “We are working together with local authorities, and we are providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counseling. We are also sending staff members from both our ship and our Sydney and Auckland offices to assist family members however possible.”

The statement added that Ovation of the Seas, which is at port in Tauranga, will remain there “as long as needed to assist with the situation.”

Family members concerned about the status of relatives can contact the following numbers: 1-300-026-240 (Australia), 0800-002141 (New Zealand) and 800 829 4050 (United States).Get the Travel newsletter in your inbox.

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The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office website noted that an emergency response is underway and that British citizens in the area should follow the advice of local authorities and their tour operators. Anyone in need of urgent assistance was urged to contact the British High Commission in Wellington or call +64 (0) 4 924 2888. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, nearly 1,000 tourists are stranded in the small town of Franz Josef after stormy weekend weather triggered landslides and flooding along the town’s main highway.

Authorities said road access to the town likely won’t be restored until Friday.

Some of the tourists were choosing to leave by helicopter or small plane while others were waiting until the highway reopened.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said many of the 970 tourists in Franz Josef were taking the news in stride, but some were frustrated their travel plans had been disrupted.

He said there were about 20 planes and helicopters flying in and out of the town to help people leave. He said some tourists wanted to stay with their vehicles while others were trying to get confirmation their travel insurance would cover the extra costs of flying out.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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