Campers left soaked after storm

By Mikaela Collins

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Tents were abandoned or thrown in the bin as hundreds who were camped at Uretiti Beach Campsite packed up to escape the heavy rain and winds.

Only the most hardy campers were left at the Department of Conservation campsite yesterday as nearly everyone fled the Northland storm. Some campers at other campgrounds across the district - many of which were full with New Year's Eve revellers - also packed up and left, with more heavy rain forecast for today.

Andrew Scott and Vo Cheng of Auckland, who had been camping at Ureiti for several years, were toughing the storm out. They said when they woke up yesterday morning it looked like a completely different campsite.

"It was full capacity and a few started packing up [New Year's Eve] but it was still packed. When we woke up this morning everyone was gone," said Mr Scott.

Staff member Glenys Foster said the campsite had a "major evacuation" due to heavy rain and winds of up to 40 knots.

"We can take up to 900 people here and we were up to capacity but it's looking pretty empty now," she said.

A couple from Matamata, Jacinta and Ben Heath, had been camping at the site since Christmas and left yesterday as planned. They said when they woke on New Year's Day their tent was full of water.

"The storm started at about 3am and we tied the tent to the ute, luckily. When we woke up this morning my 5-year-old son was completely soaked because the tent was leaking."

Next to where the couple pitched their tents two tents were blown over and the owners of them were nowhere in sight. The couple said the bins at the grounds were filled with tents.

Mr Scott and Mr Cheng were sitting in their tent having lunch when the Advocate talked to them. They said they were not too worried about the weather and had ensured their tent was securely pegged down. It was not the first time they had faced rough weather while camping in Northland. They said about three years ago they faced even more intense winds and rain.

"I think we're going to see how [the weather] goes," said Mr Cheng "We're due to leave on January 4," said Mr Scott.

A New Year camping trip for a group of school leavers to Uretiti was cut short by three days due to the bad weather. After a sleepless night being battered by the elements, the 17-year-olds finally gave up at 6am. Alicia Barrington, Tara Davey, Hannah Dowsett and Megan Laxon were with a party of 30 youngsters celebrating recently leaving Mt Albert Grammar.

"The wind suddenly started to get up and was whipping everything around," Ms Dowsett said. "Then the rain came and very soon we were freezing. We were on alert all night because the tents were shaking and other people whose tents were destroyed were coming to us looking for shelter."

The Northern Advocate understands hotels and motels around the region have been inundated with campers wanting to stay. Heavy rainfall was expected to continue early today from a low pressure system being closely watched by MetService forecasters and Civil Defence officials.

- Northern Advocate

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