Editorial - A Massive Storm


by Emma Cronin


In our last newsletter, John Ogden began by describing beautiful blue days and calm seas as the island ‘norm’. Indeed, we were fortunate to have a glorious extended summer and excessively mild autumn lasting well into late May/early June. However, on the night of the 10th winter arrived in its extreme. A massive storm, the likes of which have not been experienced on island for 100 years, dumped 305 mm of rain in the space of a few hours. Northern Great Barrier was the focal point of the activity, with Akapoua experiencing 443.5 mm of rain over the three days up to and including the night of the storm.

From my location at Glenfern the night of the storm was not dissimilar to other storms I have experienced on GBI. I lay awake listening to the screaming wind and torrential rain, listing the likely repair jobs for the morning, but never did I think it was much different to a ‘normal’ Barrier storm. That was until I awoke to an uncannily still and quiet morning, and quickly registered that the hill face directly across the Bay was now in the sea. An enormous land slide had fallen across the road and boat ramp, burying Port FitzRoy’s rubbish and recycling site. I knew then we were in for a lot of damage. However, it wasn’t until news slowly began to filter in (our phones were out) that the enormity of the damage was gradually revealed.

There were numerous slips along many of the northern Barrier roads and extensive damage to DOC tracks. Some buildings were damaged by trees and many experienced flooding. People were marooned within their settlements and without phones, power, water or adequate sewage. Port Fitzroy had turned a muddy brown and was littered with innumerable logs and debris – entire nikaus lay prostrate among broken branches and trunks of puriris semi-submerged in the vast volume of debris deposited at the head of the Unguru Bay. The entire wharf area was covered with stones and silty sand. Mud and water lay everywhere. The Akapoua bridge had gone completely and the campsite was littered under metres of broken branches, silt and stones. Fortunately and miraculously there were no injuries reported.

This was damage that was reasonably and immediately accessible – houses, roads and tracks. However, helicopters were necessary to assess damage further afield. DOC reported numerous landslides throughout the Conservation Area including a massive slip on the eastern slopes of Hirakimata. This is part of the breeding area of black petrel or táiko – one of only two locations in the world where this species breeds. (See p.13) There was a distinct sickly-sweet scent of decomposing foliage along the receding streams and in the bays. There were few birds to be heard and I found some dead freshwater fish stranded along the banks of widened streams. On the up side, we found several chevron skinks happily relocated in the massive debris dams that had formed. Rabbits and rats were heavily hit, their swollen carcasses a common site for a few days after the storm with even more presumably drowned in their burrows. Fewer rabbits were definitely noted by locals.

As I write this, another weather event is hitting the island with 170 km/hour winds and more rain forecast. It’s certainly testing the tenacity of the community, but they are well experienced in keeping on keeping on, and have set to work gradually fixing and repairing the damage. It’s certainly a time where you reassess what is important and disregard those trivialities that too often absorb our energy.

The trust is also moving forward, presenting a new face with a recently revamped website and a fresh approach engaging the community more, and recognising and celebrating their conservation achievements. In April, we shared a stall with Zero Waste and promoted the ‘Great Easter Rat Hunt’ at the Easter Fair. A good number of rat tails were exchanged for chocolate mice, and pest plant and animal information were provided. We hope to grow this as an annual event and become more present and involved in initiating and supporting local community environmental activities. Collaboration between Ngati Rehua Ngatiwai ki Aotea Trust, the Great Barrier Local Board and the GBIET continues to grow, with some major projects gaining traction and funding being sought. Clarification of these projects will hopefully occur before the end of the year, enabling them to be initiated in the New Year.

By then, much of the damage from the storm will hopefully have been repaired including the many tracks presently closed to walkers. Our island benefits hugely from tourism associated with the natural and wild nature of Aotea. The tenacity to keep moving ahead together to restore and enhance those qualities that we value on GBI, will be paramount to our future.  


Nature’s Wrath on Port FitzRoy Hill
The unprecedented rainfall on the night of June 10th was unpredicted and relatively unappreciated unless you lived north and west of the Awana. The images show the effects of a destructive debris flow of rock, soil, water and trees on an otherwise insignificant watercourse which crossed under Aotea Road via a small culvert. Estimated peak rainfall intensity of 80mm (or more) per hour for a continuous period of more than three hours saturated and lubricated the land – while gravity did the rest.

      • Left – looking upward to the road from the confluence
         with the main creek.

      • Below – looking down on the road, note the scoured banks.
      Photos: David Speir





Environmental News Issue 33 2016