Five vulnerable communities in Northland have been identified as being at risk of major flooding as climate change impacts bite.
A new government report shows Kaitāia, Kerikeri, Hokianga Harbour, Helena Bay in Whangārei, and Ruawai in Kaipara are among 44 communities nationwide most at risk.
The Far North was singled out for having a significant proportion of its population in vulnerable communities potentially exposed to flooding.
Associate Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty intends to visit Northland soon to check out communities that may be forced into managed retreat by climate change-induced flooding risk.
McAnulty said the Government was considering all options faced by at-risk communities.
He recently told Radio New Zealand these included totally abandoning areas. The option of managed retreats in areas of high flooding risk was a "massive conversation" that needed to be had.
Pawarenga resident Rose Peri-Graham, whose hometown is on the shores of Whangāpe Harbour, was shocked at potentially having to abandon flood-challenged communities because of climate change.
Peri-Graham, who can only access her home at low tide via Shelley Beach, said climate change was real but that did not mean she would be leaving her land.
"We are not leaving our whenua, that's our tupuna land.
"For Māori, leaving our land would mean not being alive. Whenua is the essence of your wairua," she said.
Peri-Graham said voluntarily leaving Pawarenga as she had done as a young person to live in Kaitāia then Australia was different to being forced to move by flooding and sea level rise.
"I am shocked. I am welling up thinking about it," she said.
"It would be the end of the world."
Far North kahika (mayor) Moko Tepania said his council was aware of the challenges vulnerable communities in his district faced.
Climate change was one of the major issues for the Far North District Council but it had its own roadmap, he said.
Tepania said conversations with communities were still to come on when, how and where managed retreat may be needed.
The council was developing its mahi (work) around the issue to be able to have those conversations, he said.
Northland's joint climate change adaptation committee former chairwoman Amy Macdonald said the Northland Regional Council had up-to-date [http:// https://www.nrc.govt.nz/environment/natural-hazards-portal/coastal-hazards/update-to-coastal-hazard-maps/]flood and coastal erosion hazard mapping which already identified at-risk communities.
She said Northland councils were at the point where work needed to be done with communities around where to from here.
"There are some really complex conversations we have to have in the next short while."
In April Northland became the first region in New Zealand to have a joint inter-council climate adaption strategy signed up to by NRC, FNDC and the Whangārei District Council (WDC).
NRC councillor Joe Carr said in the past Kaitāia been identified as Northland's most at-risk place in a Northland Civil Defence sense when it came flooding risk, because the Awanui River was part of the town's landscape, he said.
Carr, also Awanui River Flood Management Advisory Committee chairman, said NRC had, with government financial assistance, been able to spend millions on flood protection work for the town.
That paid off in July's massive one-in-500-year rains that closed State Highway One through the Mangamukas again. Usually, the town would have flooded.
Carr said while further measures could be undertaken to protect Kaitāia - such as am upstream dam - it was not necessary to abandon the town because of flooding challenges.
Ruawai's Raupo Drainage Committee chairman Ian Beattie felt the same about the 8000ha hectares of flats protected by a network of stopbanks, floodgates and drainage channels.
Ruawai Raupo's flat land is at sea level and in some places below sea level, protected by stopbanks up to 4m high fronting the Kaipara Harbour.
Beattie, who is part of the Ruawai climate adaptation panel, said his committee had a plan for protection work needed in the future.
The full cost of required infrastructure for this plan could not solely be met by targeted rates for those in the drainage scheme, which protected farming and the wider business and residential community.
Beattie said the suggestion the community may have to move was a case of politics rather than science driving the debate.
"I would like to issue a personal invitation to Associate Minister McAnulty to visit our drainage scheme and see for himself how we are well protected."
In December last year, Ruawai was chosen as Northland's first settlement to pilot new community climate change adaptation work.
Kaipara mayor Craig Jepson found the new government report "disturbing".
The mayor described himself as a climate change realist.
He said the sea level rise figures the NRC and his council were using for Ruawai were based on a sea level rise of about 1.5m in the next 150 years.
This contrasted with Niwa figures that used 2.24mm annually or about 24cm over the next 100 years.
"That's hardly something that should be alarming the people of Ruawai," Jepson said.
Kerikeri residents and ratepayers group president Jane Johnston said mention of her town in the new report did not realistically refer to its urban centre.
She said flood hazard mitigation work was needed for the area between Kerikeri and Waipapa, which was prone to flooding, and had been investigated by NRC in the past.
Among its benefits would be protecting New Zealand's historic Kemp House and Stone Store as well as State Highway 10, which ran through the area.
■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.