Friday 9th December marked the 3 year anniversary of the Whakaari eruption. A tragedy that took the lives of 22 people and seriously injured 25 others.

At the time of the eruption, the team at Eastern Bay Primary Health Alliance, as a community organisation mourned alongside the rest of our town and country.

Therefore, it was important to us as an organisation to have a representative attend the 12:30pm ceremony on our behalf.

The memorial took place at Te Mānuka Tūtahi Marae, organised and hosted by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa and the Whakatāne District Council. With Covid-19 restrictions preventing any earlier ceremonies from occurring, this was an important day for our community. The first ceremony took place at 5:00am, at Te Hau Tutua Park, where a karakia was shared at dawn.

Although the weather seemed to reflect the underlying sadness that clouded the day, it could do nothing to dampen the aroha, the manaaki, and the whanaungatanga that quietly radiated from all those that had gathered.

Manuhiri were welcomed in with a pouhiri. Visitors included representatives of New Zealand Police, New Zealand Army, St John’s first responders, and some of the brave whānau that had travelled from overseas to join in the remembrance of their lost loved ones.

Reuben Araroa, Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa began the ceremony and was followed by speakers, Joe Harawira – Tumuaki of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, Hon Kiritapu Allan (who could not attend but had her speech read by another), Amy Guihot – Deputy Head of Mission Australian High Commission, Wally Haumaha – Deputy Commisioner NZ Police, and Dr Victor Luca – Mayor of Whakatāne District.

Each speaker shared their kōrero, speaking personally with sincerity, care and compassion. They expressed gratitude to the services and brave individuals that took action during and after the eruption. They acknowledged the strength and courage of the survivors and the indescribable heart ache for the whānau of those who had passed. Extending comfort and condolences, they reminded all in attendance, that Aotearoa as a whole, and countries abroad grieve together.

We observed a one minute silence at 2:11pm, the time that the eruption happened.

We’d like to extend our great appreciation and acknowledgement to Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa for their manaakitanga. Their hospitality was warm, accommodating, and welcoming with open arms. The memorial was a beautiful honouring of this tragic event and although sadness was present, there were still smiles and laughter shared.

After the ceremony had concluded, we were welcomed back into the wharekai and we shared food and stories while their staff sang. Ending the day with hearts that felt a little less heavy, knowing that they did not carry their grief alone.


[Photo by David Maunsell]