A plume of ash was seen towering over 10,000 feet in the air above White Island, also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.
The ship would not now be leaving Tauranga tonight, Cairns told the Herald.
Plasse thought the smoke was from stacks from a factory.
Tourists who escaped White Island minutes before the eruption have described their horror of seeing plumes of smoke blasted thousands of metres into the sky. "It's a special day'".
Police indicated there had been no contact with any survivors and injured still left on the island and with nightfall close at hand, they face the prospect of a long night waiting for rescue.
He said both New Zealanders and overseas tourists were among those who were dead, missing or injured. "It was horrifying. It was totally heartbreaking".
Passengers scheduled to visit White Island would have caught buses to Whakatane to join a transport to the island, he said.
Judy Turner, the Mayor of Whakatane confirmed tourists on the island have been injured.
"At this time, there are no reports of any Canadian citizens being affected. We offer honest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims, and wish those injured a speedy recovery".
It was initially believed there were approximately 100 people on or near the island at the time of the eruption on Monday, but police said new information suggests there were fewer than 50. Some of the victims were reported severely burned.
Whakatāne hospital has also been turned into an emergency operation centre while events unfold.
White Island sits about 30 miles offshore from mainland New Zealand.
People flee the island.
'We have seen a steady decline in activity since the eruption.
Morrison said there were fears that three of the five dead were Australian, and another eight citizens were unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the media that an active police search and operation was underway.
Around 10,000 people visit the volcano every year.
Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur.
In an update just after midnight on Tuesday (about 3 am on Monday in BC), New Zealand police said they had been searching for survivors with aircraft.
St John has dispatched seven helicopters to the island, believing "up to 20 people on the island" require assistance.
"I can confirm there is one fatality and based on the information we have there is likely to be more".
White Island became a private scenic reserve in 1953.
The country's most active cone volcano has erupted several times before, most recently in 2016 and during the 2012/2013 period.