Malou Honore had never seen a flood before in her life.
''I'm from the Philippines and we don't have floods there. I'd only just come to New Zealand and I couldn't believe it."
Malou and David Honore were the publicans of Waikino Hotel from 1980 to 1982 and endured two terrifying days in April 1981 when a storm raged and torrential water flooded their hotel and devastated the area.
The hotel, which was already historic and from the 1800s, was still intact after the event. It was one of just two buildings in the shopping area that wasn't swept away. The hotel was slightly higher than the river-side of the road.
David and Malou have vivid memories of April 11 and 12. The first day of the storm wasn't as bad as the second day, Malou said.
Heavy rain brought flooding on the first day and the hotel was under water just six inches at that stage. On the other side of the highway Waikino shops were getting torn to shreds and water was rising across the road.
Patrons and hotels guests were wading about the pub — some still drinking — stranded. A group of about 15 stayed the night.
Overnight the storm got worse and the state highway became like part of the river.
The hotel group watched the action unfold from the second storey. Torrential water rushed by carrying debris. A roof floated by. Shops across the road were wiped out including a post office, a saddle shop, restaurant and a butchers shop.
Malou told husband David she didn't care about the business, she was scared for their family especially considering their son was just 6 months old.
David worried the water would continue to rise — it had already reached chest-height inside — and the old building might collapse.
''You just never know,'' David said.
''Better safe than sorry.''
Neighbours above them offered everyone to climb the bank to safety.
But the patrons just wanted to stay and drink, David said.
''We tried to get the others to come but they were quite happy in the rooms, drinking. They were pretty sure they'd be okay.''
The neighbours tossed a rope down and the family scaled the bank to safety, where they stayed until the storm subsided.
Baby Christopher stayed with the neighbours for a week.
"When the water subsided, it went down pretty quickly," David said.
"There are photos of the group in rain weather gear, knee-deep in water as it was subsiding, having a bevy.
The community rallied around. Rescue workers and community service providers swarmed the areas with offers of help. Local farmers and the community helped and the clean-up began.
The couple had the business on the market when the storm hit. A potential buyer was on his way but couldn't get through due to flooding. Not surprisingly, David and Malou never heard back from him.
The two sold Waikino Hotel in 1982.
But it wasn't because of what happened, David said, they just had a young family. They went on to re-establish Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, then moved to Auckland to own a coffee shop and a home appliance shop. They have been publicans of Waihī's The Sterling for the past seven years.
Waikino Hotel's current owners had a reunion at the weekend. A plaque was placed where the waterline rose — along the dado rail at 4.6ft high.
For more information about Waikino Hotel and its colourful past, visit www.waikinohotel.nz