Simon Bridges says police announcing a criminal investigation into the White Island disaster before retracting the statement hours later created uncertainty for those caught up in the tragedy.
"It's very unfortunate to have a situation where they say something like that, with the uncertainty that creates," said National leader Bridges.
"Yesterday [Tuesday] on the ground I met with first responders, I met with Iwi - they're amazing people. It makes you feel really good about the level of compassion that's there," he told The AM Show.
Bridges, however, defended the police for not yet returning to the island.
"We have to take their perspective," he said, referring to advice it's still too dangerous to return. "The other thing that's been their perspective is it's a recovery, not a rescue."
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, police said a criminal investigation would be launched into the death and the injuries on White Island.
However, in a statement later in the evening, that statement was retracted, saying it's "too early" to launch a criminal investigation.
The number of those killed by Monday's eruption has risen to six, with a patient at Middlemore Hospital succumbing to their injuries.
Eight others currently unaccounted for are also presumed dead.
Follow live updates here.