She’ll be right. It’s almost the national motto. But in the aftermath of the Whakaari/White Island catastrophe, perhaps we should ask whether we’re just a bit too blasé about the acceptance of risk.
We go through national paroxysms of self-reproach after a tragic event – witness Pike River, the Christchurch earthquakes, Cave Creek – yet we seem to make the same basic mistake over and over again.
We’re world leaders at flaying ourselves after disaster has struck, but we never seem to see it coming.
The reputational damage done as a result of this latest tragedy will not be quickly repaired. Most of the victims are overseas tourists, and international media outlets are asking, inevitably, why people were encouraged to visit the crater of an active volcano whose risk assessment had only recently been revised upwards.
Many of those killed when the structurally unsound CTV building collapsed in the 2011 Christchurch quake were from overseas too, as were several of the skydivers who died when a plane plummeted into the ground at Fox Glacier in 2010.
The world also heard about the Mangatepopo canyoning tragedy (six dead) and the Carterton hot air balloon that crashed, killing 11 people, while under the control of a dope-smoking pilot. Put all this together, and New Zealand starts to look like a place where too many avoidable accidents happen.
This casual approach to danger in profitable tourist activities stands in striking contrast to the obsessive and costly enforcement of petty, nitpicking health and safety regulations in areas of daily life where the risk of injury is minimal.
We may have narrowly missed one more tragedy when an unstable cliff collapsed on the coastal route to Cape Kidnappers earlier this year, injuring a Korean couple who were forced into the sea. It was surely pure luck that the cliff didn’t come down while a tractor-drawn trailer-load of tourists was passing beneath it.
The Cape Kidnappers excursion is understandably popular with foreign visitors. Part of its charm is that it’s unmistakeably Kiwi in its laidback, No 8-wire approach and the quirky humour of its guides. I imagine the Whakaari/White Island tour has something of the same character.
Tens of thousands of people have visited the island and returned to the mainland feeling nothing but exhilaration, but the question must be asked: Did that lead to a culture of complacency and a downplaying of the risk inherent in visiting an active volcano?
Visitors to Whakaari were apparently given a safety briefing. But knowing it was a routine procedure, experienced by thousands of other tourists before them, they may have regarded it in much the same offhand manner as conference attendees treat announcements about the location of the toilets and emergency exits.
One report suggested that more emphasis was placed on the risk of seasickness on the boat trip to the island than on the possibility of fatal burns and damage to internal organs from toxic gas and ash.
Gas masks and hard hats were handed out, but tourists could have been excused for viewing them as being akin to theatrical props. They might well have reasoned that if the island was so hazardous that they might actually need protective gear, the authorities wouldn’t have allowed people to go there in the first place.
We now know, of course, that the masks and helmets were hopelessly inadequate.
Hard questions will need to be asked not only of the tour operators, but of the cruise ship company that touted the Whakaari/White Island visit as a suitable day’s outing for its passengers.
The named victims included a British woman aged 80 and two Australian men aged 78 and 79. Really? What chance did they have of running for safety in an emergency?
The police haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory either. Not only were their attempts at communication shambolic and ineffectual, but they succeeded in creating the distinct impression that if matters had been left to them, the death toll might have been far higher.
It was only due to the heroic actions of volunteers, acting on their own gumption and courage, that more lives weren’t lost. As it was, many New Zealanders would have been greatly troubled by the possibility that victims may have been left to die after rescuers had to retreat.
What of the politicians, then? National Party leader Simon Bridges and the Mayor of Whakatane gave virtuoso demonstrations of tone-deafness by saying they hoped visits to the volcano would eventually resume. I couldn’t help thinking of Jaws, in which news of a killer shark is played down so as to not to affect tourism revenue.
Then there was Jacinda Ardern, who made a valiant effort to strike the same heartfelt tone of compassion that won her worldwide praise after the Christchurch mosque massacres.
To victims and their families, she said: "You are forever linked to our nation and we will hold you close." Doubtless her words were sincerely meant, but they didn't have quite the same force second time around - perhaps because while no one could have foreseen the events of March 15, this week's tragedy could have been avoided.