Drenched holidaymakers abandon campsites as wild weather hits

By Corazon Miller, Russell Blackstock, Kirsty Johnston

Uretiti campsite was filled with hundreds of holidaymakers, but by yesterday morning most had packed up and left. Photo / Shane Reti
Uretiti campsite was filled with hundreds of holidaymakers, but by yesterday morning most had packed up and left. Photo / Shane Reti

Rain and wind will once again batter Northland today, where some campsites have lost half their New Year bookings. But some die-hards are sticking it out.

At Opononi Beach Holiday Park, Harry Barlow said he's lost campers with small, light tents to the weather. But there are still game groups there braving the wild weather.

A MetService update is expected in the next hour.

No major incidents or damage have been reported to Northland Civil Defence overnight.

More than 50mm of rain fell in just four hours in the worst-hit areas of Coromandel, Northland and Auckland yesterday morning and strong winds added to the miserable conditions throughout the day.

Today is forecast to be worse. More heavy downfalls are predicted for the upper North Island as well as a first taste of the bad weather for those further south.

Campsites emptied as the storm hit - by lunchtime yesterday only 20 out of almost 400 campers remained at one Coromandel ground, while almost 600 packed up and fled from another.

Holidaymaker Stuart Beattie described his spot near Waipu Cove, just south of Whangarei, as carnage.

"The storm hit about 3am, so a few people started battening down the hatches but it's all chaos here - there's people that arrived here [on Thursday], their tents are just rubble on the floor."

Popular Uretiti was also hit as the storm swept down the country.

"The wind suddenly started to get up and was whipping everything around," said 17-year-old Hannah Dowsett, who was camping with three friends.

"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 girls were part of a 30-strong group of youngsters celebrating recently leaving Mt Albert Grammar. They said the campsite was filled with hundreds of holidaymakers, but by yesterday morning most had packed up and left after strong winds ripped tent pegs out of the ground.

The girls made early morning calls to parents in Auckland to ask them to rescue them.

"When we arrived on Thursday the weather was great," friend Tara Davey said. "We were even advised to keep a bucket of water by our tents in case there was a fire because it was so dry.

"But last night it was a different story and the wind and rain was horrible. The front flap of our tent was flipped open and all our food got soaked."

Other campers struggled to save their equipment as winds up to 75km/h pounded the camp site all night.

The bleak weather swept into Coromandel where Auckland couple Geraldine Clermont and Mike Kovalo canned their holiday at Tui Lodge a few hours into the new year.

"We opened the tent to take a look and saw two tents were upside down," Miss Clermont said. "It was really windy, so windy the tent was moving heaps, plus with the rain the upper part blew away and the rest of the structure collapsed."

Terry Byrne, Manager of the Stony Bay campsite on the Coromandel's east coast, said they had only 20 hardy souls left.

"We had about 370 before New Year's Eve. But after we went around and told everyone about the warnings yesterday, they all decided to leave."

He said the campsite could be tricky in the wet, as it had a ford in the middle which could rise rapidly. At Waikawau, further south, campsite manager Rachael Gaul said they had only half of their 1100 campers remaining by yesterday afternoon.

In Russell, it was a similar story at the Orongo Bay Holiday Park which was half empty yesterday afternoon. The wild weather also saw power cut to 1500 Auckland homes after trees fell on powerlines and some events around the country were cancelled, including part of the 145th annual Waipu Highland Games.

"It was too dangerous to carry on with the heavyweights and, obviously with the athletics, you can't run in the rain," organiser Pat Hadlee said.

"Hundreds of people have been disappointed. It's just been a huge disaster because we put so much effort into it and there's so many hundreds of people involved."

MetService meteorologist Angus Hines said there was more rain on the way.

"Up north there will be more in the places that already copped it. And then there's the current rain that's spreading further through the North Island," he said.

Up to 200mm was forecast to fall in Northland, Coromandel and Auckland to Saturday night and strong north-easterly gales were expected to continue.

But there is some good news ...

The worst will be over by Monday, forecasters say, and a spell of brighter weather is expected from Tuesday.

The New Year "Big Wet" will continue today and tomorrow but will dwindle to no more than a few isolated showers on Monday.

From Tuesday it should be fine and feeling like summer again.

"The outlook for next week is more positive, with a cold front pushing up the country early in the week clearing away most of the rain," MetService meteorologist Angus Hines said.

"Behind this front, a ridge of high pressure will begin to develop and we will hopefully see a return to settled summer weather."

- Newstalk ZB

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 12 Dec 2016 00:09:20 Processing Time: 570ms