All Shirley Reti wanted for Christmas was to go home.
Almost six months after a rain-swollen river roared over a stopbank and through their property, the Northland grandmother and her husband, Joe, are still waiting to move back into their flood-damaged home.
The Retis are among a number of residents in the isolated Waikare Valley, east of Kawakawa, affected by July's record-breaking rain.
Some could only watch as floodwaters rose inside their homes. Some had their properties buried in logs and debris while others lost access to their homes when a swingbridge was swept away and fords were washed out.
Most were able to return once the water dropped but not the Retis. They were forced to throw out much of their furniture and their home's soaked internal walls had to be ripped out.
Since then their return has been delayed by a number of factors including a shortage of builders. They can't even get the silt pumped out of their septic tank because the pump truck won't cross an under-strength private bridge.
Shirley Reti said they counted themselves lucky that they could stay nearby in a friend's bed and breakfast but it wasn't the same as being home.
She had hoped to be home for Christmas but their insurance company hadn't been able to find a tradie able to do the job by then.
They had tried to hire a motorhome so they could at least sleep at their property but couldn't book one due to the domestic tourism boom. Cabins were also in short supply and in any case they would still have to get the septic tank and drains cleared out first, she said.
''We just need to get home. We have three cats and several chickens, they're missing us. It's got to the stage where Joe goes up to the house by himself to feed the chooks, mow the lawns and do other maintenance because it's too depressing for me.''
Before the flood their Auckland-based son and grandchildren travelled up to Waikare once a month to visit, but this year they couldn't even come up for Christmas.
''So there was no family Christmas this year.''
Her 81-year-old mother had, however, joined them and was staying in a cabin next to the couple's cottage at the B&B.
Reti said the repairs had been put out to tender but one firm had backed out because it had so much work already.
Their insurer had now found a carpenter able to start regibbing walls and fixing floors on January 4.
The Earthquake Commission would cover the cost of raising the stopbank but, with climate change likely to make floods more frequent, raising the house was the only long-term safeguard. They would have to pay for that themselves, Reti said.
The flood had also scoured out the ford which provided the couple's main access but that had now been fixed by a cousin with a digger.
However, the ford still couldn't be used when the river was high and a private bridge to the Retis' property and several other houses further down river, wasn't strong enough for heavy vehicles.
Because the flood was so sudden and carried so many huge logs down the river, Reti believed it was caused by a naturally formed dam bursting in the torrential rain.
Local men used to go up the valley with chainsaws to keep the watercourse free of debris but that no longer happened, she said.
The Retis are hoping to resume their normal, pre-flood lives in February or March.
''We're looking forward to going home in 2021. With Covid, the flooding and everything 2020 has been a topsy-turvy year.''