The Whanganui River was its highest in 12 months but failed to cause major flooding in town on Thursday.

It was expected to reach 11m at Pipiriki by 9am, but instead peaked at just over 10m.

Horizons Regional Council emergency management staff were on standby to put up a water-filled barrier across the road at Kowhai Park. The barrier fills a gap in the stopbanks there.

It's needed when water reaches 11m at Pipiriki. When it reaches 15m at Pipiriki the river is likely to overtop the stopbanks.

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On Thursday staff were to decide whether the barrier was needed by lunchtime. When the river kept rising Whanganui District Council emergency manager Tim Crowe asked them to put it up about 2.30pm.

He had thought it would not be necessary, but wanted to be precautionary, and also to reassure people. He predicted water would go over the Whanganui boardwalk near the i-SITE and over the lower road at Kowhai Park, but that the barrier would not be needed.

Water was not expected to get anywhere near the Balgownie stopbanks downriver, and the high tide at 3.30pm was expected to make little difference.

It did close off some rural roads. They were the Whanganui River Rd at Shellrock Bluff, the Kauarapaoa at 1km from the southern end, and Kaiwhaiki Rd at Horrocks Park.

The digger working on the SH4 dropout outside the Red Lion Hotel had to make a quick escape. Janice Swanick, who was watching from Mud Ducks Cafe, said it looked as if it was being driven along at water level.

Upriver in the Ruapehu District the rain was heavy and caused slips. Whakahoro's Blue Duck Station farm and tourist attraction was cut off by slips, and canoes were said to have washed down the river.

Boats were removed at Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club in preparation for flooding. Photo/ Stuart Munro Wanganui Chronicle
Boats were removed at Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club in preparation for flooding. Photo/ Stuart Munro Wanganui Chronicle

The road between Taumarunui and Whangamomona was closed by slips.

Meanwhile in Hawke's Bay some rivers had reached their highest levels since 2010, roads were closed and people were being evacuated.

The rain was coming from the east. A band of it hit Whanganui National Park in the early hours of Thursday morning. Ranana got 25mm during that time, and more came through from the east later in the day.

Water did flood the lower storey of the riverside Aramoho building. Photo/ Stuart Munro
Water did flood the lower storey of the riverside Aramoho building. Photo/ Stuart Munro

Soil moisture is at 30 to 50 per cent across the district. The soil is not saturated as it was in June 2015. Mr Crowe didn't expect any major slips.

He said the near-flood event was similar to what happened in April last year, when there was a dramatic pulse of rain but the river dropped quickly.

Horizons staff put up a flood barrier in Kowhai Park, as a precaution against flooding. Photo/ Stuart Munro
Horizons staff put up a flood barrier in Kowhai Park, as a precaution against flooding. Photo/ Stuart Munro

Alarms like this happened four to eight times a year, he said. He got his first call from Horizons' Waterline around midnight on Wednesday, when the river reached 6m at Pipiriki.