The recent floods that struck Napier have been described as a one-in-250-year event.
If that is so, there have been many one-in-250-year events occurring on a regular basis in Hawke's Bay.
Flooding in Hawke's Bay has always been a problem, and pre-European Māori certainly would have faced numerous floods.
Measures relating to minimising the effects of heavy rain have over the years been undertaken by local authorities such as the former Hawke's Bay County Council and the Hawke's Bay Catchment Board.
Schemes relating to flood control of rivers such as diversions and stopbanks occupied the Hawke's Bay County Council most of the 20th century.
Two quite bad floods I can remember vividly as a child growing up in Havelock North were in 1974 and 1975.
We lived in Elliot Cres when the flood of June 16, 1974 occurred, and I am not sure whether the subdivision developers had floods in mind, but the property was elevated enough that no water came on to our section. I do remember a dinghy and a canoe being paddled past by neighbours in the river that had formed on the street.
Such was the torrential rain, a state of emergency was declared in Hastings and Havelock North that day.
Hastings streets in the areas of Akina and Nelson St were the worst hit with 100 people evacuated. They were said to be like "canals".
Napier didn't escape the torrential rain either, and residents of the Masonic Flats in McVay St were evacuated, and put up in Kennedy Park.
Tragically, Havelock North man Mark Bourke drowned when his vehicle went into the flooded Karituwhenua Stream in Napier Rd at 3.15am on June 16, 1974.
The next year, 1975, was my first year in form one at Havelock North Intermediate – a school, as an 11-year-old I had become to dislike intensely.
It was absolutely pouring with rain and from the bike ride on my Raleigh Twenty from Elliot Cres to the school, I got my shoes and socks wet. Trying to get a reason to go home, I said I needed dry socks. A teacher showed me some others worse off that myself – and I was told to get to class, despite me protesting I would probably get pneumonia if they wanted that course of action.
My disappointment was not long lived. During metal work class in a prefab, us boys were keeping a close eye on the water levels. And just at that precise moment water lapped into the room the headmaster came over the classroom intercom system telling us to effectively abandon school.
I wasted no time and with a shriek of delight was the first to wade into what I recall was water up to my waist.
Looking back over to the Havelock High School, I saw two large waterfalls – one near the high school tennis courts and the other coming over the intermediate's patter tennis courts.
The Karituwhenua Stream culvert, which was further up Te Mata Rd, could not cope with the volume of water it collected from Te Mata Peak hills and it spilled over to flood the houses and schools.
Going out of the school gates resembled a rapid as I walked my bike out waist deep, but extremely happy. I heard someone say that the smaller Te Mata Primary School children weren't to be let out as it was too dangerous to do so (I'm not sure how they were evacuated).
I remember biking passed the top of St Hill Lane from Te Mata Rd and seeing that culvert area where the Te Kahika Stream runs through the Our Land of Lourdes property filled up with water.
We got a week off school, while they cleaned up the mess – like what had happened after the 1974 flood.
I remember my mother Val saying to a neighbour that it might be better for them to rebuild the schools over our way if floods were to pose a continual problem for the newly opened schools.
New Havelock North Borough mayor Jeff Whittaker had the year before given mayor Bill Ashcroft some assistance during the 1974 flood (Bill, a beekeeper, also had to rescue his hives floating on a Te Aute Rd property).
Jeff was one of the first to live on Te Mata Peak Rd, and he had left his pharmacy to see how things were at home and recalls everywhere he looked he saw the hill sides slipping. Because of the land movements during the flood, his council was not in favour of houses being built in those areas.
As the situation got worse, and upon hearing the impact on the Havelock North Intermediate, he would visit there to help. Jeff also assisted people out of their houses in St Hill Lane suffering from the flood.
To restrict a repeat of the 1974 and 1975 floods, the Havelock North Borough Council worked with the Hawke's Bay Catchment Board to build two detention dams in the Te Mata Peak hills (there are now five). Their purpose is to catch surface water run off and stream waterflow, so the water flow is regulated.
To give an idea of the flow of water, Jeff had buried a cow on his Te Mata Peak Rd property and the flood uncovered the deceased bovine sending it to rest up a tree in the nearby property of Taruna in the foothills of Te Mata Peak.
Upon coming across the cow, he recollects in 2020 that he was asked by someone on the property did he know whose cow it was, with its impending removal sought by the owner. Jeff at that point removed himself from the situation without having to admit it was his departed animal.
Michael Fowler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contract researcher, commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history.