Jacinda Ardern juggles leadership roles meeting White Island first responders as Judith Collins calls for royal inquiry

Jacinda Ardern juggled her Prime Minister and Labour leader roles as she visited Whakaari / White Island eruption first responders in Whakatāne, while Judith Collins called for a royal inquiry into the tragedy.

Whakatāne was calm and picturesque as Ardern visited the Bay of Plenty town on Wednesday, with Whakaari / White Island barely visible in the distance - but it was a very different scene nine months ago to the day.

"It was incredibly traumatic for those involved, that is still so raw for everyone and as they've said they've had the double whammy of COVID on top as well," Ardern told reporters.

Being pummelled by crisis after crisis has made it so much harder for Whakatāne to recover, and for those who dealt with the immediate trauma of the Whakaari eruption, the emotion is still palpable.

"The incredible pride in our team, how everyone helped each other and helped all of the casualties we had. I just feel so proud of everyone," said Dr Tamsin Davies, clinical lead at the emergency department.

Ardern met with first responders in her first time back since the disaster, and it was a very different scene from the pre-COVID-19 comfort, with the Labour leader giving elbow bumps instead of hugs.

"Everyone in New Zealand will be feeling that impact of social distancing, that it's not our normal way we greet each other with our elbows," she said.

Hugs and hardship have become defining features of Ardern's leadership, triple crises in a single term - the Christchurch mosque attacks, the Whakaari / White Island eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"For us as a nation there's no separating out the past three years from the tragedies that have also punctured through them as well. It's not just part of my DNA, it's part of New Zealand's," Ardern said.

Wednesday's visit was a keenly Prime Ministerial one, with Ardern switching hats between Prime Minister and Labour leader in the first throes of a hotly political campaign.

National leader Judith Collins said she didn't mind Ardern's visit to Whakatāne "at all", but made the point the Prime Minister missed an opportunity.

"I think there should be a Royal Commission into what happened at White Island. I think people probably would be very grateful if the Prime Minister announced that," Collins said.

Newshub revealed on Tuesday that Collins isn't showing her party their internal polling which is usually a sign of nasty numbers. Labour's pollsters UMR - who also poll for corporate clients - certainly have it gnarly for National.

Its last poll before the election, leaked on Wednesday, has Labour on 53 percent and National on a measly 29 percent. That would be dire straits for Collins.

But the Opposition leader doesn't seem to be concerned.

"I understand that's the Labour Party's pollsters, fancy that," she said. "No, I don't think so. What I'll say is just always understand there is only one poll that matters, and that's Election Day.

That critical poll, Election Day, is just 38 days away. It's looking good for Ardern but there's no such thing as a campaign cake walk.

Analysis by Political Editor Tova O'Brien

Judith Collins was right to point out these are Labour's pollsters and we always take party pollsters with a grain of salt, but the numbers are in line with our Newshub-Reid Research Poll and other public polling.

The fact that Judith Collins isn't showing her MPs internal numbers speaks volumes. I've had other National MPs get in touch today livid, talking like the writing is on the wall.

It's not just National's numbers that are bad in that poll either. Neither the Greens nor New Zealand First made it across the 5 percent threshold to get back into Parliament.

This election may not just change the face of Parliament, it could render it completely unrecognisable.