On May 18, 2005, an intense storm in the catchments above Matatā caused flooding and debris flows which destroyed 27 houses and damaged 30 per cent of the properties in the township.

Of the 27 houses, six were within the Awatarariki fan head.

Following the disaster, Whakatāne District Council made a policy decision to work with government agencies and the community to implement a recovery plan and protect the town from future debris flow events.

Between 2005 and 2012, the council investigated a range of possible engineering options, including a debris dam and a ring net structure, to mitigate the risk from future debris flows in the Awatarariki Stream catchment.


However, expert advice subsequently confirmed there was no viable engineering solution.

In 2006/2007, and before the conclusion was reached, residents were given permission to repair or rebuild their homes with most of the rebuilds taking place between 2008 and 2010.

Buildings were still going up on the Awatarariki fan head in 2013.

In 2015, Government announced its intention to include the management of natural hazards in a revamped Resource Management Act (RMA) and residents say that was when it became clear the council was pursuing a voluntary retreat.

In 2016, Awatarariki fan head residents received indicative buyout offers from Whakatāne District Council.

In December 2018, Whakatāne District Council adopted a series of recommendations to provide a solution to the long and harrowing process of addressing the debris flow risk to residents and property owners on the area of the Awatarariki fan head that is subject to a high loss-of-life risk.

An agreement was reached with the Government and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council on a process to explore funding for a property acquisition package.

In July 2019 the package was confirmed and residents were notified a fund of $15 million had been collated to allow home and land owers to be voluntarily bought out of their properties.