Without a doubt this has been the worst two weeks of my life. It didn’t even seem like a particularly heavy rain, or a strange day. My life was on a high, and then the hills around me fell down.
On the 15th December 2021, 270mm of rain fell in just 15 hours. 300mm in 24 hours, a 1/145 year event. But it was the 466 mm of rain that fell over three weeks, causing the soil to be super saturated and it all just gave way, the power and the destruction is just impossible to comprehend.
The Banks Peninsula storm 2021 started early in the day and by 2pm our drive was flooded, with the culverts on our drive filled with shingle from the road, water over our gumboots in two rivers down the wheel tracks. At 5pm the neighbour rings to say how bad the road is, with slips just starting to form and the road a river, during the call our phone cuts out. By 7pm the world falls in.
I have never seen a mudslide before, these were not slips, but spring heads that could no longer stay solid earth, but liquified and rushed as brown tsunamis down the streams below. They poured from the tops of the hills down to the sea.
The creek turned into roaring waves of brown debris. Rolling rocks, stripping the bark off trees. Removing fences from the earth and carrying all evidence of them down stream, most likely out to sea.
A huge waterfall forms as the road caves in, sweeping away powerpoles, our fences and driveway. Our native forest, the beautiful trees ripped out by their roots.
Stream by stream all the way down the bay are ripped out by gushing mud. 40 slips still sit on the road from us to the neighbours, unreachable past the chasm in the road.
By 9pm we get our girl to bed and the rain starts to ease, I do not sleep. The roaring of the earth ripping apart doesn’t stop.
16th December 2021; the day after the event.
We wake from a nightmare to a nightmare. Listening to the radio at 7am, no one reports us. There is a report on the Manawatu where 20 households are cut off, and on flooding in Le Bons Bay and the rescue of 35 penguin chicks in Flea Bay.
They say the Goughs, Hickory and Long Bay Roads are closed. It makes me cry, because it seems no one knows how bad it is, we’ve never seen anything like this. I worry for the lives of my neighbours.
We check on the damage, check on the stock, the damage is overwhelming. No driveway, no road, no power, no phone, no internet, never cell coverage – no way to call out.
Every large paddock has a fence missing, our stock are not secure. Calves are missing, lambs unaccounted for. Our pet sheep are alive, we’ve lost some ducks but the little chickens have survived the storm.
The mud is too thick to get across, stock have lost water supply and can’t get to the creek.
ALL of our conservation fencing is damaged or completely lost. All of it. Our stream fencing, our forest fencing. With all of the boundary fences to replace, how the hell are we going to afford that?
Can you help? https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/banks-peninsula-storm
Around 1pm we are able to call 111 after finally getting generator going. We don’t know when the generator might fail and so we rush to get out a message, to get help. To know if our neighbours are alive.
Fulton Hogan are working on the road in site of our house by the afternoon, we can see them working and it is a beautiful thing.
By 4pm the local policeman calls, heroically carrying in petrol so we can keep the generator going, I don’t get to see him, but he’s the first to see the damage to our road and Fulton Hogan walk down to see it, they say they haven’t come across something like this before. It is a huge gash in the road, taking out everything right to the bank, falling away into an abyss and stretching down, down, down over our drive, forest, creek to the valley floor.
Thankfully our water supply is a simple fix, we’re lucky that we have invested time into maintaining it and it’s as simple as pushing the join back together.
I’m thinking of my neighbours constantly, hoping that they are okay. Not just physically but that they are coping mentally with the damage and the isolation.
17th December – Day two after
We start to hear stories of neighbours trying to walk home, not being able to get through all the slips on the roads.
Orion come in by helicopter to assess the power – the first people I see, and it brings tears to my eyes. When they land they say “this will be weeks”, they are not telling me anything I did not already guess. The pilot says “you know I am going to a 1/100 year event every other month now”. By the time they have finished their short assessment they say “power will be back on by Tuesday“, we really can’t believe it. They will have to use a helicopter to replace two poles.
Fulton Hogan get to the top of our property at the same time, our road is as clear as it can be, we can now get out by walking up a very steep hill, we have access to the world and we feel for our neighbours who will be cut off for weeks or months.
I write the first blog post ‘Devastating Banks Peninsula Storm’ with pictures of the damage.
George Masefield arrives at door, at the same time Will and Lyndon walk up from the bay, it’s taken them two hours. I don’t get to talk to them though, they are on the other side of the slip and I can’t cross it with a little girl and it will be another 10 days until I see a neighbour.
Sandie gets a generator and we talk on messenger, my first conversation with a neighbour, with the most immense relief.
10pm the house cow is stuck on the wrong side of the fence with steep slippery bank below her, we have to go down and cut the fence. It’s dark when we’re done, but still I can’t sleep.
18th December – Day three
Second blog post written at 1am about the “terrible storm“, people say they can’t imagine what it must have been like, so here you go. And I can’t sleep anyway, better to get the trauma out than hold it in.
Saturday, Alice Webster and Pest Free Banks Peninsula staff member Guy come to assist with opening a track for cattle and assessing our property, they are blown away by the damage, again it’s a relief to share how bad it is.
We get Little Dancer, our pet calf, out of the neighbours by cutting the fence and then take the three calves over the chasm to the house, where they skip and jump in happiness of being home. I search for the missing two cattle and am in shock after seeing the changes to the side creek, the immensity of the destruction, the size of the mud slides and water channels, the back creek cannon is the size of a large living room. It’s cut through five fences on it’s way down.
1st insurance assessor comes. That is fun. We have cover for eight meters of our driveway, enough to cover about half the fencing.
The Lions Club deliver food packages to each isolated house, with a helicopter from rural support. Heartfelt thanks to you all, to living in a community that cares, that acts and reaches out! And thanks for the nappies, it was speed potty training up to that point.
The TV3 filming crew fly over our property and road damage, but they don’t land. Finally we hit the news.
My family walk in and my brother comes to assess the power poles.
19th December – Day four
Today we head out to Akaroa to stay with family, a friend comes to drive us out. There is just too much going on at home for a wee girl and no one can call us. As soon as we get to Akaroa our phone’s start to ring.
Our amazing friends from EcoSeaker take us swimming with the dolphins, it is a surreal switch from the disaster zone we’ve come from, just over the hill. I look at the harbour and hills and there is no damage, it’s a different world.
Then it’s Christmas in the park, about as much Christmas build up as we get this year, we have no decorations at home, and probably we’re grateful they’re not there.
We’re hearing reports of neighbours who have had to walk home, one who has a heart problem and has had to go to hospital for observations after walking into his property. I feel outraged that there is no assistance. Multiple people are trapped out and walk in alone.
20th Dec – Monday, heartbreaking conservation losses and the Civil Defence response begins.
There is an article in Stuff and in The Press about our situation.
We head back to the disaster zone with the biodiversity officer from ECan, who comes to assess the damage. It’s important to get people out here to see what we are facing, and for biodiversity protection we can’t fix this alone.
Independent Line Services have already started repairs with helicopter and digger, they need to replace two poles on our place, all temporary just to get power on before a proper fix can be completed later on in January.
We find the missing culvert on the road that Dad has asked for 20 years, now exposed by the rain cutting out the gutters. This would have helped to stop the water running down the outside of the road, but in reality nothing could stop this storm.
I continue to hear stories of people that had tried to call for help.
Then in the late afternoon FOUR days after the event Civil Defence take up the management. When I ask why it’s taken so long they say you should have called 111, I say I did, ‘oh sorry’. They ask me for a list of people who might need a welfare check, my list is long.
I have an interview with RNZ. In that article the CCC Staff member says they’ve had a good response. Yes perhaps to the infrastructure, but for people’s wellbeing? He claims that he had called a number of Goughs Bay residents, no one has had a call, and how could he when all of our phones have been cut, no cell phone coverage.
21st December – Tuesday – Day six.
The damage to Hinewai is in the news, Hugh Wilson is stoic about the changes, that nature will heal and it’s the human structures that will take longer to rebuild.
While we are in Akaroa we quickly meet up with friends, meeting them and crying about it helps.
Paul Devlin from CCC rangers comes out to assist with temporary electric fencing and temporary stock water. We are so grateful for them helping, it’s so difficult with a two year old.
Our house water is out and this time the fix is not an easy one, we’re working on the house supply until after 9pm. The house is a mess, like a disaster zone, our freezer is melting, everything is dirty, the mess is too much to handle.
Our freezer has stopped working properly, the meat is ruined, we have just slaughtered a cow, we have to clean it out with no water supply.
Fulton Hogan walk in to asses the damage of the road, and our access track. No one knows how long the fix to the road will be, they will open a motorbike track from the road for us and we will have a locked gate at the end of the road, and no one else on our road.
We cannot take a motorbike on the property as all tracks have been blown out by the storm, we can drive 50m one way and 100m the other. Having access to the road to get goods on and off will be a huge relief.
I have my first ever panic attack. I feel isolated and overwhelmed. It’s so difficult to not have communication with neighbours or phone. I call Civil Defence for help, they say there is nothing they can do.
I talk on messenger to my neighbours and they’ve had a shit day too, getting his bike stuck in the mud and cattle jumping fences that no longer have power, it makes me feel better to talk to someone who understands, who’s living through the same experience.
22nd December – Wednesday one week after the storm
The angels descend; Cindy comes with food, and children, she vacuums the conservatory and suddenly there is a little calm. Playcentre comes to our house and it’s normal for a while. Steve comes too and helps finish the electric fences and the water supply. We are still in emergency mode and this support is such a blessing.
The geotech people arrive and assess the damage. We reported two retaining walls damaged on our driveway, they can’t even find one of them.
The 2nd insurance guy turns up unexpected, the first assessor has been swapped so we go through it all again, and we are with him for the rest of the day.
Today I find out that Spark has not lodged my fault from a week ago and no one is coming to assess the phone. I have to lodge a fault again one week after the event, without phone or cellphone, but by waiting half the day on messenger. Civil defense say they are chasing it up from their end, but we still need to lodge a fault with the supplier, it seems like madness.
And even though I show this photo of the snapped phone cable they still send out a technician to fix it, when it’s multiple cuts in the bay, at least 7 we’ve seen. We have no hope of phone for weeks.
ECan have announced a fund for conservation work to repair damage, it’s a start and we hope that there is enough to help all of the biodiversity need, but they say it is a small contestable fund to be assessed by ecologists and priortised, with all the damage on the Wildside our hopes diminish.
23rd December – 1 week 1 day.
Dad arrives and we get the lambs out of the paddock, only 3 are left, and we can only get the pet sheep out by standing in the creek chasm and pulling him in by the collar. Then have to chase them right up to the top corner and again push them across the creek, they do not like the changes.
When we get back to the house some of the rest are waiting miraculously in the yard. It’s an immense relief that while we have lost a calf, sheep and some ducks we have at least now got the rest where we know they are almost safe – maybe for a while, there is hardly a paddock without a hole in the fence, we just have to hope they don’t wonder off.
Friend arrive and we have a nice cup of tea and a chat. It’s a nice wind down from all the crisis’s. Stu actually mows the lawn! They bring lunch and Page sorts out the hard crust on the garden.
In this time friendship is the best present you could ask for.
Civil defense finally arrive, eight days after. I’m still not sure really what their role is, I guess on TV you see people caring and handing out cups of tea, maybe that is actually community that does that and you shouldn’t expect too much.
A gate is placed on the road with a paddlock, our friend Tristan has to walk in from the end of the road and has dinner with us and brings in a big box of food. He cares and that is what we need.
The digger has come to cut us a track from the water tank to the house so now we can get goods in and out on the motorbike.
24th December – Day nine
Feeling much better, for now I am through the worst of the emotions, through the shock, the anger, the sadness. Feeling in a strange sense of peace.
Dad arrives again and the digger finishes off our track.
I vacuum, mulch the garden, fold the washing, feed the chicks, prepare some home grown presents, its Christmas tomorrow.
The Chorus technician come to assess the damage, finds two split cables and repairs them and then finds another in the neighbours and then we know of four more, it will be a long fix.
We eat a meal cooked by friends. We are blessed. We still have no energy left at the end of the day for food.
I still haven’t assessed the full damage of the property, it is too much right now to go down to the main creek and see the changes there.
Christmas Eve and it’s strangely calm, the car is parked at the water tank ready for tomorrow, it doesn’t seem so far to walk now.
We are finally at the end of the emergency mode. Finally we can leave. We are more than exhausted and sleep like we are dead.
Merry Christmas and we come back to assess the damage to our farm. We go where I could not face to see before – down to Paradise. I know it’s gone already, but I could not prepare myself for the grief. When I see it my knees go weak, my gut aches, my heart hurts and my brain swirls. How could my whole grounding be swept away.
This is the place I would come summer after summer to swim, to be free, to dream. This is where we were going to build accommodation and let other people enjoy the tranquil beauty.
I cannot bare to show you more before and after photos, what we have lost is so immense. We can suffer the cost of fencing, the hard work to put it back, but I cannot stand the loss of the trees that I knew by name, the beauty that was. People say at least you did not loose a photograph album, no I lost trees that held my memories, from earliest childhood, my childhood friends. My first memory was in that stream, in the forest that covered it.
Each day we had a meditative walk along our driveway, especially in spring when the kowhai trees blossomed and the tui would sing. In Autumn we’d pick the blackberries all along the road and I would never take the beauty for granted that surrounded my home.
People say that nature will heal, oh yes I know, but it will not be like it was, probably not in my lifetime, not at least for 30 years. That is a huge thing to loose. It is painful for me. Nature’s beauty and quiet are two of the things I valued highest, why I chose to make this place my home.
Now if I choose where to look the beauty is still there, and eventually my loss will be new plants starting to stir. The one thing that I have really learnt from this is just how much I love trees. We never needed to plant them before, we had so many, and now a silver lining, I can plant and care for them and heal this land.
27th December – We finally see the neighbours – 12 days later
I need to see some neighbours, so we drive to Paua Bay and we have a cup of tea and chat, it is healing, to finally talk face to face with someone who has lived through it. Who have their own story, their own pains. And it makes me feel that I am not insane, not facing this alone.
The Banks Peninsula storm 2021 has caused damage that is beyond belief. With locked gates even Akaroa locals can’t see how extensive is the changes to this landscape, just over the hill. This blog post is to show you just how bad it’s been.
Sharing stories is a form of healing, and I am hearing horrific stories and seeing awful damage. This Banks Peninsula storm was so localised that it has only affected a tiny potion of the Eastern Bays with extremely changeable results from one bay to another, within just a few kilometers, from one neighbour to the next.
I’m sharing my story so people know what’s happened here, but ask the others for their stories and you will be shocked what they went through, with the damage that we need to repair, with the biodiversity and beauty that has been lost, and the silver linings that we find.
It’s with gratitude that I can now sit and write, for all the people known and unknown who care, for all the thoughts of kindness not only for us, but our neighbours and this land. For all the people who worked to clear the roads, restore the power, and came to assist.
Now I know what it is to go through such shocking devastation and I can empathise with all of the people all over the world that face these challenges everyday, without the privilege that we have.
And I find that what matters most (apart from trees) is the human heart, the kind and thoughtful things that pull you through the mess.
We have a track, a friend has dropped us of a digger and a quad bike, we’ve cleared one track and suddenly we feel a little that we can breathe, that it will be alright.
That we will build it back, not as it was before but better, eventually.