A Far North man had to swim through raging floodwaters to rescue his pigs when a rain-swollen river engulfed his property early yesterday.

Gary Whitehead met a mate to go fishing at 6am but the rain was so heavy they called the trip off.

When he returned to his home on Pupuke-Mangapa Rd, north of Kaeo, a short time later, the floodwaters around his house were up to his shoulders. Around the back of the property the water had come up 3m in just 30 minutes, he said.

He plunged in and swam to his house where his wife Kimberlee and three dogs were waiting, then to the pigsty where the couple's two pigs were struggling to stay afloat.

''Their snouts were just above water. The boy was really struggling.''

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Kimberlee Whitehead with one of the pigs her husband Gary rescued from raging floodwaters. PHOTO / Peter de Graaf
Kimberlee Whitehead with one of the pigs her husband Gary rescued from raging floodwaters. PHOTO / Peter de Graaf

At 80kg-plus each there was no way Mr Whitehead could carry them so he opened the gate — which was promptly swept downstream — and herded them through the water to higher ground.

Meanwhile, Kimberlee Whitehead phoned Civil Defence - only to get a recorded message saying their call would be dealt with when the office opened at 8am - and then 111. Volunteers from the Kaeo Fire Brigade helped her and the dogs to dry ground.

Mr Whitehead said they were lucky because the water had stopped just short of coming into the house, which was raised 1.5m above the ground.

It did seep through the floorboards into their rugs, however, and was likely to be contaminated from flooded septic tanks.

They were last night anxiously waiting to see what would happen at the next high tide, around 7pm, and had raised their belongings off the floor.

The couple, who are both on invalid's benefits, moved to Northland from Christchurch five years ago to get away from earthquakes and so they could afford to buy a house.

They had experienced many floods in that time but yesterday's was by far the worst, he said.

They had tried to improve drainage on the property and raised the driveway but never seemed able to stay ahead of the flooding.

Mrs Whitehead's vehicle was flooded to over the gear stick and was likely to be a write-off. They did have insurance, he said.

Kimberlee Whitehead points out the tide mark left by floodwaters at their Pupuke home yesterday morning. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Kimberlee Whitehead points out the tide mark left by floodwaters at their Pupuke home yesterday morning. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The couple was grateful to everyone, friend and complete strangers, who had helped or offered to help.

Mr Whitehead believed one of the factors contributing to flooding was a bottleneck in the stream caused by fallen trees about 1km downstream. The regional council had told him it was the landowners' responsibility to keep the stream clear.

He also wondered what the point of Civil Defence was if they only answered the phone after 8am.

Murray Soljak, of Northland Civil Defence, advised anyone who believed their life or property was in danger to call 111 immediately.