A tour group on Whakaari/White Island had a "surreal conversation" about what to do if the volcano erupted less than an hour before it did, two tourists have revealed.
Geoff and Lillani Hopkins are two of the 47 people who visited the island, off the coast of Whakatane, on December 9, 2019. They were among the lucky ones who survived the disaster that day, with 21 others losing their lives.
The couple were interviewed as part of The Eruption: Stories of Survival, a documentary airing on Three on Monday night that tells never-heard-before stories from those most affected by the tragedy.
The Hopkins were fortunate to be aboard the first tour boat to leave the island, meaning they escaped from the scene just minutes before it erupted, shooting huge plumes of smoke and ash into the sky.
In a bizarre turn of events, the Hopkins' tour group had had a discussion about what they would do in the unlikely scenario the volcano should explode, just moments before it did.
"We had a very surreal conversation around what would happen if it erupted," Geoff revealed.
Lillani added that their tour guide "kind of just said you needed to run and hide behind a rock".
Despite the sobering conversation, Geoff said it was purely hypothetical. He'd never considered that there may actually be an eruption that day.
"None of that [talk] concerned us," he said. "Historically the volcano had all its activity overnight when no one was there. It seemed a relatively safe place to be."
But the Hopkins would get a stark warning of just how dangerous Whakaari could be as they departed the island. From the water, they and the other tourists on their boat watched in horror as searing-hot smoke engulfed the island.
Three minutes after the eruption, the boat returned to offer assistance to the travellers that remained on Whakaari. Tragically, for many it was already too late.
Of the New Zealanders on the island when it erupted, only Jake Milbank and Kelsey Waghorn - both of whom suffered severe burns that covered large parts of their bodies and threatened their lives - survived.
Hear more of Jake and Kelsey's stories by tuning into The Eruption: Stories of Survival from 8:30pm on Monday night on Three.