Sunday, 7 July 2013

Wellington's South Coast

Last Thursday, 4 July, we decided to take our bikes to the Wellington South Coast. There were two reasons for our choice: one was that we had never cycled there yet; the other was to take a look at an area that had suffered severely in a recent storm. We wanted to see for ourselves how bad the damage was.

A bit of background: while we were safely away in Auckland a couple of weeks ago, Wellington was hit by a terrific southerly storm on 20 June, the shortest day. It was as bad as, or possibly worse than, the Wahine storm, which I have referred to in my posts about Pencarrow and Eastbourne (in April and June).

Wind gusts reached 140km/h, and up to 200km/h on the highest hills above Wellington. The south coast bore the brunt of the onslaught as the storm coincided with a “king tide” (an especially high tide that occurs only a few times each year). Ten-meter swells, straight from Cook Strait, battered the roads and buildings all around the bays. They tore up roads and seawalls, and threw debris, including huge rocks and enormous logs of driftwood, right across the road towards the houses. Roofs were lifted, houses and garages were flooded.

There was an enormous amount of damage all around the region, but the south coast seemed to have got the worst of it. This news website shows a bunch of photos, and numbers 4, 11, 24, 29, 36, 39, 43, 45, 47, 52, 57 and 58 show the damage done in the area we rode through on this ride. 

The day of our ride was calm and fine, and the sea was flat. We drove around the southern bays from Lyall Bay, and were pleased to see that there was a foot/cycle path all the way along to Owhiro Bay. All of the debris thrown up by the sea had been cleared away – all credit to the Wellington City Council and its crews – but you could still see places that had been damaged.

On the day of our ride, the sea was flat. John is particularly pleased with the perfect arc of the gentle little wave breaking on the beach (photo by John)

We left the car at a parking area by a boat-launching ramp at Owhiro Bay, that had obviously suffered the sea’s onslaught. A huge chunk of treetrunk was wedged on the edge, up against a signpost that was completely bent over. But all the debris had been cleared away.

The huge chunk of driftwood knocked the post right over (photo by John)

We first rode towards the Red Rocks Coastal Walk, which starts from the Te Kopahou Reserve, the next bay further round from Owhiro. We knew there was a walking/cycling track leading to Red Rocks, but had never checked it out before. Also we didn’t know, of course, how the storm had affected the area.

The damaged footpath near Owhiro Bay (photo by John)

The footpath on which we rode to get there, was OK in places, but very broken up in others. Further along, fences were festooned with debris, seaweed and rubbish.

Where the road stops, there is a track beyond the gates that is supposed to go round to Red Rocks and further along to the seal colony at Sinclair Head. However, about 200m of the track had been obliterated, covered in storm debris, so we decided we’d have to do that another day.

The track did not look promising ... (photo by John)

I have since found out that the track is rather rough and that you’d need a pretty sturdy bike to ride it. Our little folding bikes would not stand up to it. Whew! I didn’t fancy the ride very much anyway. It looks too much like hard work! Maybe we should walk the track one day. Better still, take a tour with Kiwi Coastal Tours, which we heard about in the café, at the end of our ride.

It is an amazing area, very wild and beautiful. The rocks are enormously high, rather inhospitable-looking. They have a terraced look, and I wondered whether at some time in the past it had been a quarry. It turns out that in fact it was quarried from early in the 20th century. 
Inhospitable rocks
Near the gate was a large board with Tsunami information – what to do after a long (more than one minute) earthquake, and where to run to. A map showed the areas most prone to being swamped, and it is extensive. Seeing the damage that “just” a storm can inflict, a tsunami must be truly terrifying and quite devastating.

Fascinating, and scary ...

Also nearby is the Owhiro Bay Interpretation Centre. From a distance it appeared to have some displays, but we didn’t stop to check it out. There was a lovely bronze sculpture of a shark in a nice garden next to it.

Bronze sculpture of a shark - Frenzy - by Colin Webster-Watson

After riding back past Owhiro Bay, we got to Island Bay. We had seen in online videos of the storm that the seawall by the surf club had been completely smashed in places. The footpath was torn up, but all the rubbish had now been cleared away, and where the seawall had been smashed, there were now large boulders, put there by the Council, I assume. There were still sandbags around the base of the surf club, and great sheets of plywood blocking windows and doors.

Ripped-up footpath and road at Island Bay (photo by John)

Boulders replace the smashed seawall

The island Taputeranga in the bay, looked very peaceful on this lovely day, and as always, it reminded me of the Famous Five stories – the ones where they track down smugglers or other villains on an uninhabited island off the coast during their “hols”. Ah, the stuff of childhood dreams …

Taputeranga Island in the middle of Island Bay (photo by John)

In fact the island, which gives the area its name of Island Bay, was at one time the site of a Māori Pā. The normally sheltered bay later became a settlement for Italian, Greek and Shetland fishing communities. The bay is still being used to moor their fishing boats.

Fishing boats moored in Island Bay (photo by John)

Further round near Houghton Bay, the road rises high above the beach. In some places the cliff had been undermined and a bit of the footpath had slipped down the hill. Bright orange safety netting surrounded the area.

A collapsed footpath near Houghton Bay (photo by John)

I looked up at “The Pines”, where my friends, members of the Ngaio and Tawa Scottish Country Dance Clubs, were celebrating a mid-winter dinner on that stormy night. It is quite high above the road, and looked serene today, but it will have been rather wild up there on that night. I am told the whole building shook, and the staff had had the foresight to brace the French doors with timber, and to secure the windows with duct tape. While we were in Auckland and saw all the mayhem on TV, I wondered whether the dinner had gone ahead, and I was glad to hear later, that everyone had got home safely that night.

"The Pines" Function Centre

Near Lyall Bay, the footpath became a boardwalk edged by flaxes for some distance – to protect the dunes, I think – rather pretty. We came to a point where there was a sculpture in the style of the Rapanui (Easter Island) statues, which had been donated by the government of Chile on the occasion of their president’s state visit to NZ in 2004.

Rapanui-style statue, donated by the people of Chile (photo by John)

Along Lyall Bay, by the Maranui Surf Club, all was as usual, with lots of sand on the footpath and along the road edges. The beach seemed to have been re-arranged by the storm, the tide’s edge was all scalloped, instead of one long sweep, and of course there were a huge piles of seaweed and other debris on the beach.

Beach sand, blown onto the road and footpath, is a regular feature at Lyall Bay (photo by John)

Debris on the beach at Lyall Bay (photo by John)

The sand caused us to have to get off our bikes a few times, as you just can’t ride through deep sand. We rode around Lyall Bay, and towards the tunnel which goes under the airport runway. A carpark at the end of the bay looked pretty ripped up, and there was a lot of rocky debris along the road. In the tunnel it looked as though water and debris had been in there too, the foot/cycle path was fairly caked with mud.

Entrance to the tunnel under the airport runway (photo by John)

The muddy footpath shows that rocks, debris and water made their way into the tunnel for quite a distance (photo by John)

We carried on beyond the tunnel as far as the junction with Moa Point Road. There we turned around, deciding we would do the rest another day. A good thing as it turned out, because when we drove home round the bays, we found that the foot/cycle path actually finished there.

On our way back we noted some houses where repairs were being made, one of them, had obviously had its roof damaged in the storm.

Damaged houses (photo by John)

Near Island Bay, I stopped to take a photo of the “Lighthouse”, which is actually just a lighthouse-shaped B&B. Then, as I had to step off the footpath, I noticed the quirkiness of the next two houses. One had two concrete horses’ heads on a parapet, and the other had a balcony shaped like a life boat. A bit further along there is another B&B, called "The Keep", run by the same people as "The Lighthouse".

"The Lighthouse"

Love that life boat balcony!

"The Keep" (photo by John)

We arrived back at Owhiro Bay, having ridden 19 kms, in two and a half hours. We drove round to The Bach Café for a late lunch. We had seen this café and its owners on the video footage online, and the devastation of the carpark in front of it. The carpark was all ripped up by the storm, but had now been bulldozed to nearly level.  

We talked to the woman serving at the counter, expressing our amazement that all looked so tidy so soon after the storm (two weeks) and she said the Council had been “friggin’ fantastic” in the clean up. While we were eating, the owner, Maraea, came to talk to us as well. She said that the café itself had had no damage. Miraculously, it must be in a little micro-climate of its own. She said she could not believe that the picnic tables on the deck had hardly moved even at the height of the storm. There had been debris thrown all the way across the carpark and the road, but the café had survived unscathed.

Apparently they were open on the day after the storm and continued to serve coffee and meals to Council workers and members of the public clearing up the devastation. Unlike more than 25,000 Wellington households, they did not lose their power. It appears that restoring power to everyone was a far more complicated job than clearing debris, as many homes were still without electricity several days after the storm.

The tables on the deck of "The Bach Café" hardly moved during the storm ...

We chatted about the Owhiro Bay area, where her family has owned the café for over a decade, and she told us about Kiwi Coastal Tours, which is run by her husband Gary, and which takes people on four-wheel-drive tours around the coast, to Red Rocks, the seal colony and introduces partakers to the area's Maori history. It sounds like a much better way to explore the wilds than walking or cycling. 

We drove home the long way round, all around the bays and the Miramar Peninsula. We saw more evidence of storm damage in quite a few places, like Karaka Bay and Breaker Bay, but I was glad to see that the dolphin sculpture outside the very modern house in Breaker Bay was still in its spot.

It is a beautiful drive, and it would be ideal for cycling, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is a narrow, winding road. There is not much of a shoulder for cyclists, so it is not very safe. All the same, many cyclists, braver than me, seem to ride there, especially on sunny weekends. John suggested that they should make it a one-way road, with a nice cycle lane. Wouldn’t that be great. I think it would be a great asset to the city.

Island Bay on a good day (photo by John)

The peaceful view belies the recent devastation (photo by John)

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