There I was minding my own business as I have done for these past few millennia when I heard the unmistakable noise of a 2001 Komatsu PC120 -6 digger with anti-drop valves, 55 degree twin ram tilt bucket, and a 2.5m dipper arm with 11,000 hours on the clock and in good condition.

"Whoever's operating that had best be careful," I thought to myself. "There's some kind of pipe down here which I gather provides an essential service."

Just at that moment I saw daylight. The top six feet of the swamp had been dug up, and I saw the dipper arm of the Komatsu swinging for all it was worth.

I could make out the face of the digger operator. He had bloodshot eyes and he wore a Stetson.


"That'll be one of those cowboys," I thought.

Then there was a terrible scratching, clawing sound of the digger hitting something metallic.

He'd hit the pipe. He switched the engine off. I could hear the sea.

It's a pretty good life being a kauri swamp up here in Ruakaka. We occupy a wedge of land between the Ruakaka coast and State Highway 1. It was once a large peat swamp. The beach is one of the best in New Zealand - a long white surf beach, with a rivermouth, where conservation workers have roped off the sand-dunes for birds such as dotterel, wrybill, and oystercatchers.

There's a camping ground and a motel, and in summertime a fish and chip shop opens for business next to the surf lifesaving club.

The population is not much more than 3000. There's a skateboard park and a shopping centre with a chemist and a Four Square supermarket, and around the back of town in an industrial estate there's a fairly incredible junkshop, Scavengers, which has wild cacti growing by the front gate.

It's one of those lovely little New Zealand towns where the point and pleasure of it is that nothing ever happens - nothing dramatic, nothing that could cause a national crisis.

The digger operator got out for a closer look at the damage to the pipe. Then he said to himself, "Doesn't look too bad", and got back in the digger and continued with trying to drag out a kauri log that was 20 metres long and one metre wide. They go for good money in China.


The smell of petrol seems pretty strong.


There's petrol everywhere, at a rough estimate between 60,000 and 70,000 litres.


Daylight again, as a crowd of people arrived to try and fix the pipe. Apparently flights have been cancelled and fuel has had to be delivered to Auckland airport by road. It's a crisis.


The burst pipe came up in a television show presented by Mike Hosking and he said it made New Zealand "look like a huckleberry little nation".


They're still working on trying to fix the pipe. They'll get there in the end. One thing it's achieved is that steps will be put in place to make sure this disaster never happens again.


There goes the unmistakable noise of a 2001 Komatsu PC120 -6 digger again.