The National Emergency Management Ageny has issued a warning following an eruption at White Island.
A moderate volcanic eruption is occurring at White Island and is hazardous in the immediate vicinity of the volcano.
"Volcanic hazards may impact areas on and near the volcano," says a statement from the agency.
"Ashfall may impact areas distant from the volcano. People should stay out of designated restricted zones."
1XX Radio Station is reporting that there have been serious injuries sustained from people who were on White Island when it erupted.
White Island erupting seen from Waiotahe Beach, Opotiki. Video: Fiona Loeffen.
People living in or near the affected ashfall areas should:
• Be aware of the potential for ashfall. Consider staying indoors. Volcanic ash could be a health hazard, especially if you suffer from breathing difficulties.
• When indoors, close all windows and doors to limit the entry of volcanic ash.
• If caught in volcanic ashfalls: Wear a dust mask or use a cloth handkerchief over your nose and mouth; protect your eyes by wearing goggles. Wear eyeglasses, NOT contact lenses as fine ash will get under the lens.
• Listen to the radio and/or TV for further assessment and updates.
• Effects of a volcanic eruption can be experienced many kilometres from a volcanoAn image taken from White Island appears to show tourists moment before the eruption.
"Detailed safety advice will come from GNS Science. People should act on it promptly.
"The National Warning will remain in effect until a cancellation message is issued by the National Emergency Management Agency."
WeatherWatch.co.nz says winds are fairly light in the area today with ash visible on some satellite imagery not straying far from the island.
"Winds at the moment should see any ash/smoke remain at sea. Tonight winds look light and variable around the island.
"It's possible some international flights may ensure they go further around this area but for now WeatherWatch.co.nz doesn't expect any major issues with flight plans in the NZ area as typically White Island isn't under most flight paths.
"Also, the size of this eruption should keep it fairly localised."
Rescue helicopters are on their way to the island after possible sightings of tourists near the crater around the time of the eruption, reports Stuff.
A police spokesperson is also asking people to avoid the area of Muriwai Drive in Whakatane.
"Police are urging the public to avoid the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas.
"Muriwai Drive will be closed from Harvey Street."