Wild, wet, winter weather, welcomed us back from leave, this past Thursday, July the twentieth. We had traveled back to the States, to meet Miss Abby Louise Longo, our beautiful new mokopuna, born on June 12th. We arrived in Ohope in a down pour, looking like the proverbial drowned cat. The following morning, Mr. Bill remarked that wind gusts were as strong as Cyclone Cook’s but I can neither confirm nor deny his claim, for I blissfully slept through the storm, after having been awake for the better (or worst) part of two days. No matter how many times we return to New Zealand, it will never grow old. There is something memorable about each and every arrival. Our first arrival was as magical as our autumn entrance was dramatic, when we slipped into the country, between two cyclones.
It was the fifth of April when we departed from Florida and two days later when we landed in New Zealand. We had arrived between two cyclones, Debbie and Cook and received a wet kiss, from Cyclone Donna, a few weeks later. Oh, and just to make things a bit more interesting, there was a waterspout, who shall remain nameless, just dancing along the horizon one day.
Cyclones are not named alphabetically backwards in the Southern Hemisphere, nor were Cyclones, Debbie, Cook and Donna caught up in some strange letter vortex. Cyclones are named by different meteorological centers. Debbie formed as an area of low pressure system over the Coral Sea, near Papua New Guinea; hence her name came from the Australian Tropical Cyclone Warning Center’s list. Since Cyclones Cook and Donna originated in the Central South Pacific, the Regional Specialized Meteorological Center Nadi in Fiji, had the honor of naming them. If I were allowed to name waterspouts, I would have dubbed “my” funnel cloud, Double Trouble, as it spiraled perilously close (at least in my mind) to the active marine volcano on White Island. Whether called a waterspout when over water or a tornado when spinning above land, a twister spells trouble. Say, what happens when a waterspout and a volcano meet? That’s one answer, I don’t want to know!
Mr. Bill had received the alert for Cyclone Debbie, on his New Zealand Herald app, in the departure lounge at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, while we waited to begin our long delayed journey back to Aotearoa. We looked at each other aghast but we never, even once, considered turning back. Mr. Bill quickly did the math, calculating the estimated land fall and projected duration of the storm. He correctly (whew) predicted that by the time we were scheduled to arrive in Auckland, the cyclone would be spent. Mr. Bill felt confident, that if we could make it to Auckland, we would manage the rest of the way by hook or by crook, even if the storm disrupted domestic travel. It was Ohope or bust- preferably, Ohope. We had every confidence in Air New Zealand. NZ’s Immigration’s slow processing of his work visa, might have been able to delay Mr. Bill’s scheduled surgeries, by six weeks but not a mere cyclone. Patients were waiting!
We arrived safe and sound, some thirty six hours later, door to door. The rain had stopped and the sun broke through the lingering clouds, as we drove the last leg of the trip, along the coast from Tauranga to Ohope. Huge areas were flooded and landslips had closed many routes. Fortunately, we didn’t have any detours in our direction. What a relief- it’s best not to zig and zag, when you have jet lag! We settled into our new apartment (a third floor corner view this time) in dear old Beachpoint, thankful that we had missed the storm. It wasn’t long, however, before another cyclone came calling to a region still drying out and digging out from Cyclone Debbie. Cook, was the second cyclone’s name and what a cold wet dish it served.
It seemed that no sooner had we unpacked, than we were asked to leave. It was Mr. Bill’s first week back to work, when he was stopped on his way to the hospital. A worker from the Whakatane District Council, had halted traffic in the West End Road round-about, in front of Beachpoint. He told each driver, that later on during the day, they would be receiving a letter from the council, regarding the approaching cyclone. Mr. Bill continued on to Whakatane Hospital but did call me to say, “check the mail”. Ah, nothing compares to the personal touch. I do appreciate the gentleness of Ohope. Imagine being told that first, you would receive a letter, second, you get said communication and last but not least, the police come calling!
While waiting for the promised letter, I packed a ‘go bag’ for a swift exit: passports-check, laptop-check, camera-check and a change of clothes-double check; then went for my daily bike ride. I always begin my 23k ride with a quick trip down West End Beach to warm up and see what’s happening. The beach was empty- no surfers, no dog walkers, no families playing cricket, not a human soul. The gulls and oyster catchers seemed surprised to rule the sand. They strutted along the shingle, their body language shouting, “I’m King of the World”! All was quiet in town and the cows in the paddocks didn’t seem bothered by the approaching storm. The promised letter arrived around noon, urging residents of West End Road to self-evacuate, if they felt unsafe…“Residents living in close proximity to the escarpment in Ohope are asked to be alert to the heightened risk of landslides. With soil already sodden and further heavy rain on the way, the chance of slips occurring from the escarpment will increase considerably. As a precaution, people facing that situation are advised to stay out of rooms which may be in the direct path of any landslide. Anyone who is concerned about this risk should consider self-evacuating until the weather improves.”
I wasn’t overly concerned, still, I fretted while waiting for Mr. Bill to return from the hospital. What a relief, late afternoon clinics were canceled and he was home sooner, rather than later. By then, West End Road was closed but my hero, Mr. Bill, drove around the barricades to reach me. When stopped by the police, Mr. Bill told them that he had to pick up his wife and they let him pass saying, “that’s all right then”. Once back in the apartment, however, Mr. Bill wanted to ride out the cyclone. He assured me that high on the third floor, we were safe from the expected storm surge. I cast a worried eye on the towering cliff behind us. The massive limbs of giant pohutukawa trees, that defy gravity by growing at a downward angle rather than upright, were leaning in towards our bedroom. It is exactly the type of hillside, that gives way in heavy rain. Most worrisome, for West End Road has suffered deadly landslips. Yet, Mr. Bill calmed my fears by saying, that we’d be fine in the front rooms.
Now, a letter is easy to ignore but the police are not. Soon the police were going door to door, explaining that the self evacuation was now a mandatory evacuation. We joined the queue of Beachpoint evacuees. Now, where does one go when Cyclone Cook is knocking on your door and all the area hotels are already filled with people, displaced by Cyclone Debbie? To dear friends of course! We called the Smillies in Whakatane, saying, “there’s good news and there’s bad news.” Wisely, we gave Linda and Gavin the good news first. We were bringing dinner and wine over to their new house. The bad news was ,that we’d be the dinner guests from hell, who don’t leave! Being ‘Good Sorts’, the Smillies welcomed us with open arms and more wine.
I’ve never been to a Hurricane Party but I imagine they are much like a Cyclone Party- Happy Hour accompanied by the sound of wind and rain. We were a merry band, snug as bugs in a rug, watching branches and the shed door, whip past the windows, while my steak and cheese pie bubbled in the oven.
Now, here is some useful advice during a cyclone. DON’T go to the loo. Bad things happen when you do. When I was in the bathroom, the power went out and when Linda was in the bathroom, a massive Melia tree smashed through the roof.
I was lucky. There was still a glimmer of light left in the sky, when we lost the electricity; without stumbling, I made it safely back to the lounge, finding that all was as it had been, except darker. Linda, however, wasn’t so lucky. When she returned from her trip to the loo, she stepped into a disaster area. Insulation, plaster dust and wood chips swirled in the air, twigs snapped under foot and a broken tree branch was protruding through a hole in the lounge ceiling.
It was a dark and stormy night, straight out of a bad gothic novel. The sound of the wind ripping through the trees and swirling around the house, seemed magnified in the darkness. Inside shadows danced in the flickering candlelight. Then disaster struck. Heralded by a loud thump, a huge tree fell onto the metal roof. As the branches scraped along the ribs, the accompanying screeching noise was worse than a thousand fingernails raking across a blackboard. It ended finally, with a deafening crash. Fortunately no one was in the lounge. Linda was safely down the hall and we three were sitting around the dining room table ‘happy as’ (Americans, to understand Kiwi, turn this phrase into a sentence, by adding – a pig in ****). I squinted through the black fog and said, “Gavin, I think a tree has punched a hole in your ceiling.” If it wasn’t raining, we could have seen the night sky. It took teamwork to move the TV, audio system and furniture below the gaping hole. It could have been worse, the broken branch acted like a giant plug, which protected the room from the worst of the rain. We moved as much as we could out of the room and covered what could not be moved with tarps. At least we didn’t feel light free loaders anymore, we were helpers!
The eye of the cyclone passed overheard. It seemed as if the wind, was pausing to catch it’s breath. Refreshed, the wind began anew with a vengeance, blowing in the opposite direction but this time, it was with a sprinter’s and not a distance runner’s energy. There weren’t anymore surprises, the storm had run it’s course. Nothing for it but to go to bed and see what the morning would reveal.
It was Holy Thursday when Cyclone Cook made landfall. On Easter Monday, the Smillies were having an House Warming~Garden Party, to toast their new abode. Ever the unflappable Kiwis, Linda and Gavin’s party was not postponed. Most hosts would adorn the table with a floral centerpiece but not the clever Smillies, they draped their new home with a tree! All their friends found the new place easily, it was the only one on the street with a tree on it. Why, even the Easter Bunny hopped by, with a basket of chocolate marshmallow eggs to welcome the new comers to the neighborhood.
As they say, all’s well that ends well and when it ends with chocolate, that’s mighty sweet.