"I've not seen a storm this big since Cyclone Giselle sunk the Wahine in 1968."
They're not exactly the words you want to hear when you watch the news before a big adventure. Yes, for the second time in a couple of weeks, the North Island was to be hit by yet another ex-tropical cyclone. This time it was Cyclone Cook, and it was going to hit harder than Debbie.
|Even as we set off in the morning, the weather was beginning to turn|
The Bay of Plenty region declared a state of emergency before the cyclone hit, and this forced some unforeseen changes to our Easter travel plans. Tauranga was looking increasingly unlikely as we left Wellington, and we decided we would wait in the Hawkes Bay region overnight to see what damage Cook did 304km north.
As we were approaching the small town of Hastings we were battered by wind and rain. Of course we were expecting this; Cook was lashing the entire country and - not only had we been warned that Hawkes Bay were expecting windspeeds of 150km/hr - we'd seen Snapchats and Facebook updates of flooding and wind-damage in our starting location of Marlborough in our absence, a whole nother island away.
When we arrived at our cabin, it was clear to us that we arrived the same time as Cook. Trees were bending like plastic straws in the wind, and the rainfall was torrential. We pitied the fools who decided to tent in this weather, and got into our little five-bed shack optimistic for a good night. We decided we could wait out the storm, which wasn't going to be bad where we were, with cards and alcohol.
|My shelter for the stormy night|
It wasn't until after we bought our poison for the night (a six-pack of Corona for me) that it dawned on us the seriousness of our situation. We were unlocking our cabin door when, for the first time in my life, the eerie cries of emergency sirens sounded. You know the kind, the loud droning from the civil defense, like what you would hear if a tsunami was incoming. We were not anticipating the wave that was about to hit us.
The sky began to light up an ominous white as the storm neared, the crack of thunder barely heard over the gale that was making the doors rattle. Outside our windows we watched campers around us running as quickly as possible to their own rented rooms. We pitied even more the fools in their tents, some of who had already lost their protective rain-shelters, now flying like a hawk pursuing a fleeing meal. Our driver left briefly to move his car, fearing that a tree might come down on it, and by the time he came back he was so saturated with water that he might as well have just gone for a swim at Cape Kidnappers.
We were determined to wait the storm out with a game of cards when suddenly the room went pitch black. This storm was not relenting, and we were too cautious t get too far out of our room when consoling our neighbour and her screaming child. We decided to retire to bed, planing to check our dead phones when the power came back in the morning to see if we could even leave Hastings or if we were trapped. We had no idea what was happening up north, where it was supposed to be the worst. Surely someone would have died if it was worse than this. Someone might have died here, I thought, as the sirens of police and fire engines seemed to sound every 30 seconds. After that first tree came down with an almighty crack and thud, the sound of chainsaws at 11pm became almost as frequent as the sirens.
It finally gave up around 1am, the rain subsiding to showers, and although the wind was still strong enough to shake the walls it was fantastically calm compared to what was happening before. When I woke up I expected to see huge flooding and dark skies, so I was incredibly shocked to see the exact opposite. The bright blue skies were as devoid of cloud as the grounds were of puddles, so magnificently juxtaposed with the conditions the night prior.
|The local wildlife wasn't fazed by the storm at all!|
See, this is why I won't leave England. You don't get storms like THAT over here!
As we were driving up north, past great big oak trees ripped out at the roots all along the highway, news slowly eked through of how Bay of Plenty residents over-reacted to the warnings, and how the only damage Cook had done was confined to the Hawkes Bay area. There's a sweet irony in avoiding cyclonic weather just to find yourself right in the middle of the worst of it.
Come back next week for more of AJ's crazy travel stories (if he doesn't get himself killed before then...)