In one of the most emotional moments to come out of the horrific White Island volcano tragedy, dozens of locals have cried as they performed a dawn haka.
Others standing on the shore in the sleepy tourist town of Whakatane sang Amazing Grace as rescuers prepared for their dangerous mission while some sang prayers, known in Maori as karakia, and hugged.
As they gathered to dance, sing and be together, the retrieval mission got underway for eight bodies that police believe are on White Island, also known as Whakaari.
Some carried pictures of their lost family members, while others in the group sang for hours to keep spirits high.
By the water, members of the local Maori tribe Ngata Awa sang, their voices helping everyone manage the morning’s anxiety.
Locals have placed dozens of flower bouquets, as well as handwritten messages, in honour of the dead and missing.
Before first light on Friday, vessels from the navy and White Island Tours headed out to sea to support the high-risk operation.
Those involved in the mission travelled by ship and helicopter.
Grieving family members were taken in a commercial boat on the perimeter of the exclusion zone, while other families waited back on the shore.
Another boat, with Maori representatives, performed a blessing at sea in the Bay of Plenty.
New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement was at the wharf alongside health workers and the emotional family members.
Eight people had to be left on the island on Tuesday as people rushed to get away from the falling clouds of ash.
The final two bodies, which New Zealand authorities were forced to leave after their mission took “longer than expected”, are likely the two White Island tour guides, Hayden Marshall-Inman and Tipene Maangi.
Mr Maangi’s father stood on the shore for much of today.
He told Radio New Zealand he didn’t want to be anywhere else today, as the shoreline is where he feels closest to his son.
He surrounded himself with friends and had his phone close for updates, he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said New Zealand authorities would return to retrieve the two remaining bodies on White Island as soon as it was safe to do so.
“Due to the circumstances, limitations of equipment and the need to complete the operation within a particular period of time, the New Zealand authorities have indicated they will return as soon as it is possible to do so to endeavour to retrieve others who remain on the island,” she said.
— with AAP