Surfers eager to watch the show

By Jarrod Booker, Isaac Davison

The Mount attracted its share of people keen to glimpse a tidal wave. Photo / Alan Gibson
The Mount attracted its share of people keen to glimpse a tidal wave. Photo / Alan Gibson

New Zealand coastal areas bore no resemblance to the tsunami-ravaged islands in the Pacific, as many treated the warning of a large swell as entertainment.

After the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Ministry issued a tsunami warning at 8am, low-lying coastal areas around the Bay of Plenty and the East Cape were evacuated to the eerie sound of warning sirens.

The potential for damaging waves from the huge earthquake near Samoa also caused communities on the west coast - Raglan, Kawhia and Mokau - to move to higher ground.

But at Mt Maunganui and Gisborne, many residents ignored warnings, headed to the beach and, in some cases, kept surfing.

Even as the Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter flew over the coastline, urging people by loudhailer to get away from the tide, families with small children played nonchalantly in the sand.

Tauranga police finally cleared Mt Maunganui's main beach by getting the four remaining surfers from the ocean.

One, Jackie Keeble, said she was not anxious because she had surfed waves at least twice the size of the 1m predicted by Civil Defence.

"It is a first, being kicked out of the water for a tsunami. I was more worried about my 2-year-old on the shore. I wasn't bothered until police starting yelling at us to get out."

A crowd of more than 300 stretched along the boardwalk and up the Mount, but left deflated after an anti-climax.

By the time the waves had travelled 2800km from the earthquake's epicentre to the east coast, they were not detectable by the naked eye.

At New Brighton beach in Christchurch, surfer Shayne Baxter took to the water as the tsunami was due to arrive. He had heard nothing about it until the Herald raised it with him as he kitted himself up.

"A metre? Aw, a metre's not too big," said Mr Baxter, who has just finished a stint surfing big waves in Fiordland for a documentary on the Discovery Channel.

"I might even be able to catch it. If it does come through, probably the safest place is in the water."

Fellow Christchurch resident Simeon Beckett, 23, said he was too curious to miss a potentially dangerous tsunami.

"I was actually in the shower and my mum said, 'Oh, there's a tsunami on its way, and don't go down to the beach.' I said, 'Don't tell me that, because now I'm going to go'."

He added: "It proves the old axiom we are the only species that runs towards danger. It's great, isn't it? Curiosity killed the cat, and the cats are all here."

In the end, he sat perched on a concrete wall at Brighton Beach, feeling cheated by the lack of large waves.

In Auckland, the city council advised people on Great Barrier Island and Waiheke Island to move to higher ground between 10am and midday. Police were out on Tamaki Drive asking people to stay off the popular beaches in the area.

Civil Defence reported tide gauge information received at East Cape indicated an 80cm tsunami reached that region. On the North Cape swells of 25-30cm were measured.

Civil Defence Bay of Plenty group co-ordinator Greg Wilson said he was satisfied with the response from emergency authorities.

But he did point out that the helicopter had reportedly created some unnecessary panic among people on the east coast.

He hoped that in future people would seek more information from radio and other sources and not panic at initial reports.

- NZ Herald

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