The Gordon family and their neighbours in Taihape's Pukeokahu Road were invited to a midwinter Christmas party at River Valley Lodge on Saturday night.

They never made it - instead of going to the Christmas party, a white Christmas came to them.

In what Powerco describes as "the worst snowstorm in the region since 2002", Shona and Fraser Gordon were snowed in, couldn't get the few kilometres up the road to the party and couldn't contact their hosts to tell them they wouldn't be there.

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They were among 10,000 people across the lower North Island who lost their power supply, and yesterday were among the 311 properties in the Taihape area still without power. No one knows when the supply will be restored.

They had prior warning and last week's heavy snow has not been a great problem for them. It was more serious for others.

A house burned down at Bald Hills, 40 kilometres away in Turakina Valley Road, where there was no power with suspicions the fire may have been started by a candle.

Higher up and farther inland, the covered yards at Mangaohane Station collapsed under the weight of snow and the drifts there still measure in metres.

The roof on one of the Gordons' neighbours' car shed also collapsed under the weight of snow, damaging vehicles.

For the Gordons it has been five days without power so far.

A sparse snow started falling in Pukeokahu Rd on Wednesday. On Thursday heavy snow started at 4.30am and by 9am there was about 20 centimetres on the ground.

By the end of the day there was 50cm around the house, and one metre up on the hilltops. The power went off on Thursday morning and the Gordons started a generator they hadn't used in four years.


Thursday was eerily quiet, with no wind, no vehicles ... only the sound of tree branches creaking and snapping outside.

There was a little more snow on Friday, but it has been melting since that afternoon. There are still lumps along the roadsides, and drifts in the creases of the hills and across the flats.

There are power poles and lines down across the Taihape hill country, with some hard to access. The Gordons don't think they will have power back on in the next few days.

They're using the generator to chill the freezer down for two hours a day, pump water into the house, heat water and run a few lights. Dinner is cooked on the woodburner in the only warm room in their 1908 wooden villa.

They're also using the generator to charge cellphones, their only means of
communication since snow brought down the phone lines.

"We feel like pioneers - it takes all day to cook on the fire," Mrs Gordon said. "Probably the hardest is at night, because it gets dark so early, and it's cold at night with no electric blankets."

She and her husband have a 630-hectare sheep and beef farm, with most of it now leased to their daughter Kristin and son-in-law Mathew Churchward. Mr Gordon moved all his stock under trees - where they will have shelter and grass - before the snow hit.

Kristin Churchward with daughters Maisie, 4 (right) and Holly, 2 Power is out for about 311 houses in the Taihape area. Photo/Bevan Conley.
Kristin Churchward with daughters Maisie, 4 (right) and Holly, 2 Power is out for about 311 houses in the Taihape area. Photo/Bevan Conley.

Down the road at the Churchward house another party was spoiled. Daughter Maisie turned 4 on July 13, the day of the big snow. Her birthday food had to be cooked outdoors on a barbecue, the guests couldn't make it and the snow was up to her waist.

The Churchwards' house is freshly insulated and their neighbour Trevor Brown has loaned them a generator. They're doing a minimum of farm work, feeding out to stock and Mrs Churchward has a three-week-old baby to look after.

Farmers have cleared the roads using tractors and chainsaws. The trip to town to get more petrol for the generator is only 20 minutes now, and the mailman can reach all his customers.

More isolated properties, like one in Colenso Road, may not have vehicle access. But Mrs Churchward is expecting a midwife to visit her and baby Grace today.

Nobody is willing to guess when the power will be back on.

"We have got poles out in the middle of the farm .... unless a gang suddenly turns up it could be another week," Mrs Gordon said.