The little known Eastern Bays of Akaroa Storm happened on 15 December 2022. Six months on new photos show the extent of the destruction and the impact on the people who live there.
Six months on from the Akaroa storm:
I haven’t been able to write this blog. It’s been too hard to share the impact of this Akaroa storm and I’ve needed time to grieve, to adjust to the shock and the irreparable changes to the one place that I have known my whole lifetime.
My first memory is of the Goughs Bay stream, swimming with the neighbours’ kids, while still in a nappy, I remember the soft grass down to the edge and the warm summer sun, the tunnel of native forest that was dark and scary, I wasn’t allowed to go that far like the bigger boys could. Mum sat on the bank.
Over the decades the stream closed in, the native forest had grown to shade the stream bank to bank for the whole upper valley. All of that is gone.
At the top of Goughs Bay, a pine plantation slipped, and the ready to harvest pine trees blocked the stream, and dammed. When it burst it ripped as a hydroslide of water the full length of the bay, cutting into the stream banks up to ten meters high.
At my old swimming hole, the water level was three times my height, three times! And about 15m wide, can you calculate that for me? The volume of water surging through was just immense.
Full grown pine trees are lodged all the way down the main stream, left abandoned midstream, splitting the stream into two. New boulders are exposed, and the stream has undercut the slopes above causing slips from 20, 30, 50 meters up to fall down into the stream, great big wide expanses of soil exposed, and forest removed like a razor has come and sliced the life away. All the way down the valley.
The noise was terrifying and even the next day the little trickling stream was a roar of white-water. For weeks afterwards the stream had a strange sound that woke me at night, perhaps it was the boulders settling, it sounded like water going down a plug hole.
For months afterwards as I would go into a new area to explore the damage I would go into physical shock as it is beyond comprehension how much water flowed in tsunamis.
The small valley close to our house that had a trickle of water had at least three tsunamis roar down in a ripping grinding roaring, that sounded like a major earthquake – the sound of the ground ripping apart just before you start to feel the shaking. But this would just go on and on, and I would run from one window to the next looking for where the earth was falling.
Those tsunamis were three times my height, leaving a boulder the circumference of my arms at the top of the waterflow, placed gently up the bank, after it had ripped out a decades old track. See these previous photos!
Getting our cattle home:
We lost our cattle four times, it was incredibly stressful that every time we felt that we had our fences secure we would find yet another hole, and a boulder bank on our boundary that the cattle could just walk up and over into the neighbours, across an eight-wire fence.
We were out at all times of night trying to secure our stock and eventually we just had to give up and let our great neighbour Lyndon look after them for six whole weeks. It wasn’t until the council cleared the slips off the road in the lower bay that we were finally able to walk our cow’s home.
After that expedition I had severe stomach cramps, I just had to go to bed for a few hours until the pain subsided, I know that it was only shock that the extent of the damage was so great, it felt like someone had plucked the rocks out from my guts – like the rocks plucked out of the cliffs (see image below).
At the top of my parents block in the ‘Basin’ paddock a giant slip had formed like a plug hole to a handbasin and the water poured down, 100m above the road the ‘Cliffs’ paddock had giant black holes in the cliff face where the boulders had been plucked out, falling into a bowl at the bottom that was drilled into solid rock. A major land feature that was not there before the storm. This was the ‘waterfall’ that the neighbours had driven home under with their young girls in the back seat, we are so lucky no one died.
We still have only three paddocks secure, five and a half full months after the Akaroa storm. It’s tiring, how long this has dragged on for after this Akaroa Storm.
The Road, Repairs and Despair:
I watched the road fall in around 6:30pm on the 15th December. Four months later we had a drive and road again, but it wasn’t easy in between, all three of us piled on a quad bike with our gear up a steep track with sharp corners, sometimes in the rain or the dark. And until we got shingle on the drive about 5 months after the storm we still had to watch the weather forecast all the time to know if it was safe to drive home.
When the road fell down, it fell down onto our driveway and washed away the retaining walls and the outside of the drive. To be able to use the drive again a large digger had to chip away at the red lava rock.
Still the insurance company is mucking us around, there is no evidence of there ever having been retaining walls, they’ve just washed away. During the road repairs we would hear and watch large boulders bounce down the hill onto the drive or keep on going to far below. It was a good thing that we couldn’t use to the drive!
We hope soon to be able to secure a fencer who can come and fix the large gaping holes in our boundary fence.
Our car was stuck at the end of the drive for more than two months – unable to be driven home, and as you can see in this photo – the driveway was pretty damn narrow and unstable. The walk out to get the car was the only walk we took on the driveway this year, normally a daily pleasure through forest.
I never thought that we would watch from our living room as a new road was built, that we would see three levels of cuttings into rock, not beautiful green pasture and forest, I actually cried the day they plucked out my favourite kanuka tree (and I don’t care who knows it) – the one that always flowered first and was a perfect circle, one of the markers of coming home in summer.
No landline then what is your mobile number?
This is a question I am sick of hearing, we have no cellphone! And our phone is a temporary fix, a cable laid across the cattle paddocks down through our neighbour’s farm. Only a bull has to stand on it and that’s our phone gone for a week or two. With most kiwis making tour bookings via phone when they call it rings and rings, they don’t know the storm has ripped out our only phoneline. When the phone does work it’s pretty hard to hear past all the crackling and static.
More photos of beautiful destruction and making new:
Gone and value in what remains:
The old twisted broadleaf that is dying. The kaikomako that is covered in black mould.
A matai tree that I had never seen before – some 30 years old. My kowhai, the one that holds the light, in summer when you walk around the back track for a wonder and some shade, and that spreads a golden glow that makes you stop and slow down.
The ngaio that I sat upon the roots of to look down over the bay and daydream. Countless other trees that survived.
But, the hole in the tree that sat above my driveway, big enough for a small birds nest, or the curl of a lizard, it’s gone. That hole was swept away with the tree. The tree was swept away with the bank, when the road burst. That hole stays in my mind.
Many trees are gone, it’s hard now to place exactly where they were, the kowhai on the corner, the mahoe that was dying but shooting away again, seeing as we had just fenced off the bush. Just protected it, what a joke.
Is there any such thing as certainty anymore? It feels not, it feels that there is nothing that we are able to control. Perhaps that was the hardest thing from this storm, it’s biggest lesson. Both to have to perfect waiting, waiting for the road repairs to be started, and then for them to stop, waiting for the phones to work again, waiting for bureaucrats to understand, perhaps for that waiting will not help, I would be waiting for a very long time.
To learn to wait, and to learn that there is nothing in this world that we can really control. That it is likely to happen to you too, or some sort of suffering, it’s unavoidable.
Really it seems what I needed to learn was to let go, to not be attached to the things I love, and yet to love them just the same. To find new love in the seedlings that are coming up, in the small plants that we will plant.
And to be strong enough to admit that loving a tree is okay, and that grieving for the loss of a tree is equally okay, perhaps not seen as normal, but is a rational emotional reaction to loosing what one has loved all of their known life.
For I don’t see the natural world as a resource to be used to make money, or a ‘thing’ to be protected, it is not dead to me. I am nature and nature is me. ‘It’ is not outside my house and I inside. We have geckos that live inside, spiders that are welcomed and cleaned around, it is their home too.
These natural places are my places of dreaming, where I find peace and connection, where my ancestors walked and where I am often moved to a state of bliss. I haven’t experienced that bliss often since the storm, once perhaps when I finally sat down to cuddle our pet lamb, Spotty. I need to find my grounding again, a sense of time rather than a mad survival state.
To find my hygge, special comfortable places, all over again, because the special spots on the farm that I have loved forever are irreparably changed, and some are just simply gone forever. No I’m not overstating this. My swimming hole is gone. The very earth beneath my feet of my childhood hut is swept away.
But I will find new places, and I will love them more fiercely than I did before in the knowledge that they are not forever as I once believed them to be. As we are not forever, we only have a limited time to live, and we must do that well. To love nature fiercely is okay, it is actually life-fulfilling.