Te Karaka Bowling Club emerges from the silt of Gabrielle

From left : Arty Baty and Lester Wright

Type ‘Te Karaka’ into Google Maps, and you’ll discover a small settlement to the northwest of Gisborne … just off State Highway 2 on the approach to the Raukumara Range foothills.

It’s ‘Footrot Flats’ country.

What you may also notice is the Waipaoa River snaking like a horsehoe around the village. Much of the year the river gently dribbles through the papa rock in search of the sea 30 or so kilometres away at Poverty Bay. But on the 12th February last year, it turned into a raging torrent when Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle hit the East Coast.

“We were woken by Civil Defence about 4:30am in the morning,” recalls local resident and Te Karaka Bowling Club stalwart, Lester Wright. “And told to evacuate to the school to escape the flooding. Not too much later, we were told to abandon the school, and drive up the hill at the back to get away from the tsunami of fast-flowing muddy water and logs that was quickly inundating ‘TK’.”

“The Waipaoa River which normally sits 15 or so metres below the stopbanks, was now shortcutting through the village. What made it worse was it was still dark. It was hard to get a gauge on what was happening. It was terrifying.”

“This was much worse than Bola in 1988. That was always the way we compared bad weather in ‘TK’. In Bola, we had evacuated to the local marae, but this time the marae was under 6 foot of water.”

But as fast at the river came up, it went down. And after 12 hours waiting in their cars up the hill, residents were allowed back to their homes to take stock of the damage.

There was plenty.

“When we finally got down to the bowling club the next day,” says Te Karaka Bowling Club member, Arty Baty, “We found that the water had luckily only reached the top of the steps into the clubhouse, and the clubhouse itself had escaped damage,”

But the green was a different story.

“The green was under 3 inches of muddy silt. More than that. The whole club carpark was under 3 inches of silt. In fact, the whole of Te Karaka was under 3 inches of silt!”

“The marae was out of action, so we set about creating a relief centre at the clubrooms …Lester brought his barbeque down and we went about feeding and watering the workers cleaning up ‘TK’. Everyone in town turned out to help.”

“Cleaning up the bowling club wasn’t a priority,” says Lester, “But a couple of days later we had 20 or so members down here with wheelbarrows and shovels scraping the silt from the green and the surrounds. We dumped it all in the carpark. We also invited the local residents to dump their flood damaged stuff in the carpark … we ended up with a two metre high pile of garbage covering the whole area!”

“The flood was so bad,” continues Arty. “That the government and council talked about moving the whole of Te Karaka to a more ‘resilient’ area. But it was just that … talk. In the end, we all pitched in and got things back to ‘normal’ again.”

Six months later, Jamey Ferris and his team came up from Christchurch and set about rebuilding a new green for the club.

“We were able to hold the Centre Champion of Champion Triples here recently,” says Lester. “It’s a real testimony to what they achieved. If you’d seen the state of the green after Gabrielle, you would’ve thought we’d never get it back.”

“But the saddest part of the cyclone was that local farmer John Coates lost his life in the flood. It was terrible for his family and friends. We also lost a great supporter of the Te Karaka Bowling Club. We’ll all miss him here.”

“RIP John.”