Sharing storm stories the morning after the cyclone, Beachpoint was abuzz with excited chatter, as returning residents were reunited, none the worst for the wear and all with a story to tell. Although everyone was evacuated, not all of my Beachpoint Buddies sought shelter from the storm. Whereas Mr. Bill and I went to ground, Rae and Don, two intrepid Kiwis, sought higher ground. Our friends drove up into the hills, to ride out the cyclone in their car. Now, Rae and Don could have taken refuge with any number of their family and friends but as Rae explained it to me, they declined all the profered offers, “not wishing to be a burden”. Besides, it isn’t everyday that you get to experience firsthand the power and the glory of Mother Nature at her fiercest.
Being avid campers, they were well prepared to face the elements. With dinner packed in the chilly bin, a transistor radio, pillows and blankets for snuggling, they set off to find the best vantage point, to watch Cyclone Cook come ashore. As all of West End Road emptied out, Rae and Don joined the mass exodus but they didn’t stray far. The fearless duo drove up Ohope Road to the crest of the hill and turned right onto Otarawairere Road, towards the water, while everyone else headed inland. They stopped at the lookout above West End Beach- too exposed! The small viewing area is perilously close to the cliff edge and the advance winds of Cyclone Cook were already tearing at the fragile cliff face. Did the storm chasers back down? Heavens no! They are Kiwis for goodness sake, they went onward and upward. They turned onto Kohi Point Lookout Road and climbed the narrow, twisting track, that winds around the exposed hillside to the summit of Kapu Te Rangi. It’s a spectacular vista with uninterrupted 360 degree views, as far as the eye can see -when there is daylight. They settled in to watch the show. They didn’t have long to wait for Mother Nature to make her appearance, it was nearly curtain time. As if on cue, Cyclone Cook roared in, making landfall shortly after they arrived. If you ask me, this was better than dinner and a movie. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, they were the only ones there.
Don felt confident that the windswept point would be the safest place, high above the expected storm surge. He was right. They had chosen their spot well. There was a bit of rocking and rolling as the winds buffeted the car. The wipers needed to be turned on, now and again, to clear the windscreen of leaves and twigs but otherwise, all was fine. Rae said it was exciting and that being there, felt a little bit naughty! Day slid into night, as the cyclone raged around the car. No stars shone above but the lights in the streets below, were twinkling beacons in the night. When all the lights went out at the same time, they knew that the region had lost electricity. All wasn’t dark however, they could still see the lights on across the river, at Whakatane Mill and Coastlands but soon those failed as well. Unable to see any landmarks in the pitch black, they tracked the flashing red lights of the emergency vehicles, trying to work out what streets they were on and where they were going.
When the eye of the cyclone passed directly overhead, Don said it was eerie and it became ‘dead calm’. They decided it was time to leave their perch and descend. As Jack and Jill discovered, it wasn’t going up the hill that presented a problem, it was in coming down. Midway between the hilltop and the bottom, a huge tree branch blocked the road. Don got out to have a look; he heaved and it was the branch that went ‘tumbling down’, it’s crown already broken by Cook. Next they encountered a framer on his tractor. He looked then up and down, then remarked, “aren’t you a little old to be up there?”. (Apparently, Kohi Point is a well known Lovers’ lane!) They continued on to the end of Lookout Road, turned right onto Otarawairere Road and encountered the next roadblock- a downed power line, stretching clear across the road. Rae understandably was worried but being a Sparkie, (electrician for my American readers) Don wasn’t concerned; he could tell the line was not live. However, there was cause for concern, a ute was coming up the hill. Were there more unseen obstacles around the bend? Would they have to turn around? The truck stopped, the driver had a look and then drove over the power line. As he came alongside, he said with a laugh and that dry Kiwi wit, “if it was live before, it isn’t now.” He was also able to tell them that the rest of the way was clear. Soon my friends were turning onto West End Road. It was the moment of truth. The predicted storm surge never materialized, it was an hour past high tide and the road had not flooded. All was well.
It is also well and good, when all is said and done, to sleep in your own bed, safe and sound.