Whakaari/White Island eruption: Kiwi Jake Milbank on being a survivor, and what's next

Of the four Kiwi tour guides on Whakaari/White Island when the volcano erupted, only two made it back to the mainland alive - Jake Milbank and Kelsey Waghorn.

Milbank has now opened up about what it's like to be a survivor and what his plans are for the future. 

He was lucky to survive his 19th, but on Wednesday, his 20th birthday, Milbank is determined to celebrate life to the fullest. 

"[It's] a pretty big one, seeing as I kind of missed out on it last year, so it's good to be around for this one," he told Newshub.

There are reminders of his last birthday everywhere: On the horizon, in the news, on the 9th of every month, in the way his skin feels when he moves.

"I guess it'll always be fresh in my mind in terms of the fact that I have to wear my scars, but it's not something that I want to let dictate the way I live," he says. 

Despite the horror that unfolded on this day last year, looking out at Whakaari now and thinking of the people, the tourists, the job, the volcano, Milbank misses it all. 

It's been, in his words, an "intense" year. 

It's been, in his words, an "intense" year.
It's been, in his words, an "intense" year. Photo credit: Newshub.

Two weeks in a coma, four months in hospital, hour after hour of surgery and rehab. He knows more about human anatomy now than he ever wanted to. He's learnt the true meaning of family and the value of humour. 

"The human body is a lot tougher than you think it is, you know. Mine's been to hell and back and I guess it's just amazing to see how strong it really is."

With 80 percent of his skin now scarred and unable to sweat, things most people would take for granted - like being able to regulate your own body temperature - are difficult for him.

"Everyone will be fine, and I'll be way too hot or way too cold."

There are still more surgeries planned to release the pressure of tight skin around his neck and hands. It's the operations that most test his seemingly unwavering optimism.

"That was one of the biggest things I'd get down on, the fact I'd be doing so well, I'd have another surgery, and then I was kinda back where I was a couple months ago. And you know, it was a two step forwards, one step back kind of thing."

For every step, his parents have been right there. 

"Really proud. Hell, it's been a pretty tough ride," says his father, Steve. 

Steve remembers with nightmarish clarity, being told by doctors to prepare for the worst.

"I'm one of the lucky ones as far as I'm concerned. A lot of people didn't make it, we've still got Jake. So, it's a lot easier for us than anyone else. So yeah no, I'm happy as Larry." 

Ironically, experiencing the worst has enabled Jake to see the very best in life.

"Don't waste it, don't waste, get out there, have fun. You never know when it could all be over." 

Now a year on, he's ready to get out there and he's got big plans for summer. Diving, hunting, surfing, partying.

"End of one chapter, beginning of another I guess. Who knows where we go from here." 

He also wants to work on boats again and get his skipper's licence.

He has a feeling the best is yet to come.