The recent Banks Peninsula storm from Cyclone Ruby has been terrifying for Banks Peninsula residents who slept with their bags packed by the door while listening to the roar of slips crashing down all around them.
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Households have been left isolated, potentially for weeks with no road access in Goughs Bay on Banks Peninsula. With no way of contacting each other residents were worried that their neighbours had survived the night of the storm. There is no power, no phone and never cell coverage. The only way of contacting the outside world for some residents was to get the generator going.
With three weeks of rain and over 400mm recorded, slips have occurred all over the Goughs Bay valley. On the 15th December over 270mm fell in just 15 hours. This is known to be less than actually fell, as the rain fell so fast that the rain gauges were filled and overflowing even though they were emptied several times in the day. Within 24 hours more than 300mm had fallen.
The Roar of the Banks Peninsula Storm
The noise was terrifying. For anyone who has experienced a major earthquake it is the same long rumbling sound, but it went on all night long, with the roar of land sliding coming from all around the valley. Overnight we slept all in one bed with our bags packed and raingear and boots by the door in case the slip continued to grow and hit the house.
We watched the slip take out the road and powerpoles at around 7pm, and then the road continue to crumble, moving toward the watertank. Once the slip had formed a new waterfall spilled over the chasm that is approx 100m long and 30m deep and extending down valley 6-700m to take out our driveway and completely cut us off. A terrifying new river formed on the uphill side of the watertank streaming down the hill and threatening to form a new slip.
Contact Made with the Outside World
The heaviest rain was predicted to fall around midnight so little sleep was had listening to the roar of the water. Thankfully the worst of the rain was over by 10pm and slowly over the night the roar subsided down valley and into the distance as the flood of water moved down the valley. It was with immense relief that we awoke from the little sleep we did have to find that the slip on the road had not grown but many new slips had formed, with three blocking our driveway alone.
Once our stock and water supply were accounted for we started the generator to make contact with the outside world and call for help. With no contact with our neighbours we feared for their safety and houses. In the afternoon Fulton Hogan had cleared the road enough for us to site them and we watched them clear the slips. Later on the local policeman checked in with us and ferried petrol to keep our generator going.
A Long Clean Up
There is a group of cattle stuck on the road, unable to go down because of the road disappearing and unable to go up with no access back into their paddocks, so they wait. Our stock are stuck without water past a chasm that has taken out the watersupply, track, fences and gates. We will need to cut a channel through the mud to get them out. With the terrifying noise of the slips some have panicked and jumped fences, trying to get out.
Fences have been wiped out right across the bay, stock fences and the fences around covenants and forest reserves. After decades of work to protect biodiversity many of the fences have been ripped out. For us our dream of fencing of forest reserves had only been completed in July 2020, now much of the fencing is gone.
Tourism in Covid-19
2020 and 2021 have been incredibly hard for our family. As a tour operator with guided tours of the nature and history of Akaroa, Covid-19 has been tremendously hard, 99% of my guests were international and we have worked hard to pivot to New Zealand History School trips. Launching our trips only this month, we now will have to walk out to the road for any tours that we are able to take this summer. Thankfully I had just taken my van out to Akaroa and so I can still operate, but the roads that the Akaroa Nature and History Tour takes have been washed away.
Covid-19 has been hard for us not only financially but my partners family lives overseas and he has lost several friends and relatives to Covid-19. This storm comes after a long list of challenging times, be we know it is building within us a high level of resilience and fortitude.
A New Future
We also plan to manage our land different in the future, we are aware that the worst slips happened in areas without forest, or without trees that are deep rooted. We want to immediately plan the slips with kanuka and kowhai, species that are deep rooted and browse resilient until we can get our fences back in place, or even just set aside vast areas for regeneration to allow the natural beauty and resilience to dominate. For this we are just waiting for the government policies to catch up.
After living on this land for seven generations, the hardest thing is to see the dramatic and fast change to the landscape. Most of the slips happened within two hours between 7-9pm. And one after another the slips altered the landscape that I know better than the palm of my hand. The trees that I loved and the beauty of the landscape has been torn apart.
The Future of Land Management
This Banks Peninsula storm is something that I have not experienced in my lifetime, but it feels like it is just the start of the future with climate change.
But did you know that H2O (water) is the most volatile atmospheric chemical and drives the weather patterns across the world. Yet we do not think about how we use, extract, waste, pollute and loose water in vast volumes every day. While there is now a huge financial market established around carbon, water is used as though it is free and dispensable.
Water is one of our most precious resources and we should be acting while thinking of the seventh generation after us to protect not only water but all of the landscapes and ecosystems it benefits. We should be acting to restore the mauri (lifeforce) of the water.