A Wangaratta family's 'dream holiday' in New Zealand took a drastic turn when they arrived back at their cruise ship to discover fellow passengers had been killed in a volcanic eruption.
Eight people, including three Australians, are missing presumed dead after a volcano on White Island, also known as Whakaari, erupted at about 2.30pm on Monday.
Authorities have revealed 47 people were on or near the island at the time, of whom 24 were Australian.
Many of those on the island were passengers from the cruise ship, Ovation of the Seas, which was docked about 50 kilometres away.
Karen Rourke, her husband Pete and their sons Sam, 13, and Baxter, 4, embarked on a 12-day cruise aboard the Ovation from Sydney on last Tuesday.
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Speaking from the ship, Mrs Rourke told The Border Mail the family had been planning the trip for more than a year.
"Normally we just go camping so this was the big dream holiday you always plan," Mrs Rourke said.
"The mood aboard is very sombre. I've been really emotional...
"I just feel helpless, we're right here but we can't help."
Mrs Rourke said the captain and crew of the cruise ship had been updating passengers as news came in about the incident.
"We can still see White Island from the ship, there's a bit of haze but apart from that it's like nothing happened," Mrs Rourke said.
"It's quite surreal. I don't know whether it is because of the way the wind is blowing but it is looking the same today as it was yesterday morning, it's really eerie.
"You expect when something happens to see the devastation.
"I just keep looking over at the island today, hoping they'll find people alive."
Mrs Rourke said the ship, which has about 5000 people on board including 4500 guests, had been due to leave port on Tuesday but remained docked.
Passengers have not been told when they will leave or how the itinerary will be affected.
"We'll try enjoy the rest of the holiday and make the most of it, while knowing in the back of our mind others don't get to," she said.
Mrs Rourke said there was a minutes silence aboard the ship in honour of the passengers who lost their lives or were injured in the eruption.
"To know those people were just on holiday like us and something like this happened, it's really distressing," she said.
"I just feel terrible for the people involved."
Mrs Rourke said her family had taken a day-trip to Rotorua on Monday to look at the geysers and geothermal pools.
She said a tour guide had told them there had been an eruption, but it was only when they got back to the ship and received a deluge of concerned messages from family members and friends they realised tourists and members of the ships' crew had been caught up in the disaster.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at least 13 Australians were hospitalised, with many in a critical condition and others remaining unaccounted for.
A Sydney family of four, an Adelaide family of three and a Brisbane mum and daughter are included on the Red Cross list of those missing after the eruption.
"This is a very, very hard day for a lot of Australian families whose loved ones have been caught up in this terrible, terrible tragedy."
New Zealand authorities have done a reconnaissance mission and determined that nobody on the island could still be alive. A forensics team from the Australian Federal Police is on its way to New Zealand.
Red Cross New Zealand has listed the people missing on its Restoring Family Links webpage.
- with AAP