There are fears for the safety of visitors to New Zealand volcano Whakaari, or White Island, after an eruption on Monday afternoon.

The volcano, located around 40km offshore of the Bay of Plenty, sent huge amounts of white smoke – most likely steam – into the air in the blast.

Local reports suggest around 20 people could have been on the island, with five helicopters dispatched to assess the situation.

Geological hazard trackers GeoNet had registered moderate volcanic unrest on the island for weeks, before the eruption began at 12:10pm AEDT.

The White Island Crater Rim camera, held by GeoGet, showed a string of people visiting the crater at that time.

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Subsequent shots from the camera, displayed online every 10 minutes, show the blast rendered the camera inoperable.

Whakaari is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, and frequently visited by tourists.

The local council says New Zealand Police and Bay of Plenty Civil Defence are working together.

AAP