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'A reason for this' — Student narrowly avoids trip to Kermadecs, epicentre of today's 8.1 quake

Inka Pleiss was meant to be at the Kermadec Islands today. But Auckland’s move to Alert Level 3 meant she was at home and safe from this morning’s massive earthquakes. 

Inka Pleiss. Source: Supplied

The 21-year-old bachelor's of science student at the University of Auckland was meant to leave for an “expedition of a lifetime” to the island on Monday with the Sir Peter Blake Trust. Pleiss and 14 other Kiwi school and university students and five teachers were selected to join a team of scientists and environmental leaders to undertake research on the island. 

The group was planning to board the HMNZS Canterbury to head to the Kermadecs, alongside GNS scientists and a group of iwi members. The ship would have already been at the islands by today.

But, after Auckland was moved to Covid-19 Alert Level 3 on Sunday, the trust wasn’t sure it could go ahead with the trip. Yesterday, it had decided to cancel the trip completely. 

After months of fundraising to go on the trip, Pleiss told 1 NEWS she was “shell-shocked” about the cancellation at first. 

“I was pretty upset, to be honest, yesterday and this morning. I had lots of family members and friends tell me, you know, like, ‘There's a reason for this.’"

Pleiss said she didn’t see the news about the earthquakes near the islands until later.

“This morning, I got all of these messages going, ‘Oh my gosh, are you OK?’ I hadn’t updated anyone apart from my family about the cancellation because of lockdown," she said.

“One of my friends said she almost had a panic attack this morning. But, luckily, she got hold of me really quickly and managed to calm her down.

“Honestly, I feel like I didn't even process it properly at the beginning. I was like, ‘Oh, there was an earthquake.’

“Then I did a double-take and thought, ‘This is insane. It’s literally where we were going to be.’"

She said she was grateful for all the messages she received.

“I just felt really grateful that there were so many people who cared enough about me to check in and make sure that I was OK.”

She said she was lucky and wouldn’t have known what could have happened had the trip gone ahead. 

“It definitely would have been a not-so-great experience,” Pleiss said. 

“I feel a little bit stupid for being so upset about not going. There’s always a reason for stuff to happen and it looks like this reason was very obvious. I’m feeling very glad to be home and safe and not in the middle of the ocean.”

Pleiss said she planned to one day become a researcher and tertiary teacher for marine conservation.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the fact that the trip had been cancelled was a stroke of luck. There is currently nobody on the islands.

“All of the issues we’re dealing with coalesced and actually prevented what I think would have been a very distressing if not dangerous situation for those involved,” she said.

“I can’t imagine what that experience would have been like for them.”

The Kermadec Islands, an important conservation area, is located about 1000km northeast of the North Island, between New Zealand and Tonga. 

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake off New Zealand’s east coast rocked the North Island at 2.27am today, followed by a magnitude 7.4 and 8.1 earthquake near the Kermadec Islands at 6.41am and 8.28am respectively.

The earthquakes triggered several tsunami warnings, all of which were cancelled by the National Emergency Management Agency hours later.