Some Muriwai residents are still living in the local campground four-and-a-half months after Cyclone Gabrielle tore through their homes.
While some locals appreciated the fresh energy visitors brought to town, the tragedy of Cyclone Gabrielle also remained fresh in their minds.
For many of the residents displaced from their homes, it was impossible to move on.
To the untrained eye it could appear that life in Muriwai was back to normal. Some visitors who walked along the beach were unaware it was ever closed.
However, when they turned to face the cliffs, the landslides that claimed the lives of two firefighters still showed as scars through the vegetation.
The cordon at the top of Waitea Rd had been lifted for more than a week but down at the campground, co-owner Cheryll Beatty said out-of-towners did not immediately hurry back.
Muriwai residents were forced to evacuate from their homes during Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo / Zoe McIntosh
“The first weekend wasn’t particularly good weather, so it wasn’t a huge rush but I think a lot of people are also keeping away - there’s still the messaging to keep away from Muriwai.”
Last weekend’s easterly breezes may have brought some surfers out, though not much business for the campground.
Winter was normally quiet, but not this quiet; bookings were down about 70 per cent on previous years.
Only one of the two main entries to the beach was open, with security guards remaining in town to block off the badly hit Motutara Rd and Domain Cres.
Beatty said this limited access had put some visitors off, while others were hesitating out of respect for the residents who were still displaced from their homes.
“The messaging we’ve got is that we have to wait until the end of August, but then the council also said that people have to be prepared that there’s a considerable process to go after that, but they haven’t explained what that process is.
“We understand that they’re in talks with the government and treasury about the buyout process but there’s all sorts of things swirling around about whether the council’s going to spot some of their land so people can stay in the community - how would that work?
“That would all take a long time to resolve, and people don’t have the time to wait for that.”
At a community meeting on 15 June, then-Minister for Auckland Michael Wood said the government and councils were beginning discussions about buyouts and would be working at pace with a desire to wrap up negotiations as quickly as possible.
Auckland Council group recovery manager Mat Tucker said the buyout scheme should be finalised well in advance of Muriwai’s geotechnical work concluding. This work was due for completion in late August.
A landslip in Muriwai after Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo / Zoe McIntosh
While residents waited to hear more about potential buyout offers on the table, some were stuck in a state of limbo and struggling to pay mortgages on the houses they had to evacuate.
Beatty said about 10 groups - some with children - had no choice but to stay at the campground.
“It can be testing, obviously, in the weather, in a caravan. But they’re just having to get on with it, unfortunately.
“Again, it comes down to that fact of just having to wait and wait and wait.”
Since the cordon was lifted. Sand Dunz Beach Cafe had experienced a bump in business after months of only loyal locals propping it up.
Jillian and Peter Airey had not been able to call in since the cyclone.
“We tried several times, but the roads were shut, and they weren’t letting anyone in that wasn’t a local,” Peter said.
“Which is hard on the local businesses that exist on the weekend traffic and visitors coming to walk their dog or go surfing.”
While wandering around with their dog Rosie, they said it was easy to forget the extent of the devastation.
“On the beach today, if you didn’t look behind you, you’d be oblivious of the damage,” Jillian said.
“It’s quite surreal, really. Then you turn around and you see - there’s a slip, there’s a slip.”
Surfer Sam was rearing to go as soon as the cordon lifted. Since early May he had been able to whet his appetite on Piha’s waves, with the cordon there lifting earlier. But he said there was nothing quite like Muriwai.
“It’s just raw. Everybody loves it because you can have beautiful offshore days like this and then it can get real punchy and gnarly out here as well.”
Sam was loving getting back to his morning surfs before work. But he was mindful of the struggle locals were still going through as they waited to hear the fate of their homes.
“I know everybody’s been doing it really tough since the cyclone and it feels good to come back and spend a bit of time out here and give back to the locals at the local cafe.”
More than 100 red-stickered Muriwai residents remained unable to enter their homes, with a further 54 yellow-stickered. They were now waiting to learn which risk category they would fall into, and importantly, whether this meant they would receive a buyout.
With geotechnical drilling of the hills they once lived in yet to begin, this risk assessment may take some time yet.
Auckland Council said drilling would commence on Thursday and end in late July.
Contractors would drill nine holes on public land on Oaia Road, Motutara Rd and Domain Cres. Each site would take about a week to drill, install a sensor, and backfill. Steel tubes would be left in the holes to allow access to the sensors and the data they provided.
The council said the geotechnical programme would be finalised in late August.
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