Flooding and land slides at her home in Titirangi have Zoe Hawkins sleeping in her running gear in case she has to flee. She shares her concern for others even more affected – and questions what the future brings. 

A week ago we lived on the edge of paradise. Our forever home high up in Paturoa Bay, Titirangi had a view of the sea fringed by Pōhutukawa. It was like the Marlborough Sounds, but 30 minutes from Auckland’s CBD. We felt we were the most fortunate people on earth.

After everything that has happened, I don’t know if that’s still the case.

On the Friday of the big rain I was home with three of my four school-aged children, dog and cats like normal. My husband was in Europe for work and my 16-year-old daughter away up north.

We’d spent the evening like many other Aucklanders mopping up flooding and waiting for the inevitable power cut.

A self-destructing mayoralty
‘We’re petrified’: Why floodgates were closed

At that stage I had registered the intensity of the deluge. Our home is adjacent to a 30m high cliff.

I hadn’t told the children I was a little concerned but I’d assembled raincoats and shoes by the front door for a quick exit if need be.  

My youngest son Sam and I were tired and went to bed around 9pm to watch a show on Netflix. The others chose to snuggle with their iPhone in their own rooms.

A short time later we heard thunder. Or fireworks. And screaming. The first landslide.

I moved the raincoats and shoes from the front door to the car. Moved the car so that it was pointing up the driveway. Told the kids we were staying at home but to pack a few things and to be alert. To go immediately to the driveway if anything happened and wait.

Another rumble. No screaming this time. But bigger than the first one.

Zoe Hawkins’ home, right, safely on the hill, but with treasured trees at the bottom. Photo: Alan Tunnell

We didn’t wait. We found the dog, who was hiding under the house. Left extra food out for the cats. And took refuge with a friend. My daughter wanted more internet time so she could Snapchat her friends while we drove. I snapped at her.

We have been lucky. On returning at first light I found our house is a little closer to the cliff edge and our beautiful majestic trees are now sitting on the beach but the house did not seem to be not affected. In 2021 we learnt about viruses. Now I know a lot more about geology, landslides, and how water travels over land than I ever knew I would need to know.

Thanks to a geotech friend who was kind enough to visit quickly I have learned that our cliff is in good shape and the house on solid footing. The slip exposed rocks that form neat, distinct steps. As scary as it was to see, we only lost dirt and trees. Now the cycle will start again as nature regenerates and rebuilds.

Two days ago I confronted my fears and descended to the beach at low tide to explore the cliffs. The cycle of regeneration and slippage is clear. While I can’t speak for others, over time our particular slip should weather, regrow vegetation where it can, and appear less raw, matching other sections of the cliff where slippages have occurred in recent years. It’s comforting. But we do have to take care of it. Our drainage had functioned perfectly in normal situations but all wasn’t quite well underground. It’s not something we could have known about in advance. Now I know to have experts check it regularly to make sure the burden of water is directed to the right places and not to our cliff.

The family’s last open lane in and out. Photo: Alan Tunnell

A week after the first flood and from the safety of the kitchen window I can see 10 large landslides. Some of them are too close for comfort to homes. A car that wasn’t at the bottom of the cliff yesterday morning when I went out briefly was there when I got home. The footpath and road across the bay look like Roman ruins dangling from the clay bank.

My new uniform is denim shorts and Icebreaker t-shirts with Redbands. I have been sleeping in running clothes so that I can be in action mode as soon as I need to be. Each night I assemble a grab bag. Metservice’s rain radar is on constant refresh on my phone. I am tuned into our local Facebook groups like never before. This is how we do survival in 2023.

My husband is home tonight on a flight. He’ll probably see the calm weather and think I over-reacted. I hope he keeps his thoughts to himself.

I’ve done everything I can for now and the absence of urgency is a gap to be filled in my heart. The water and power are back on and our one remaining route to civilisation is hanging in there – just. Abseilers have helped complete emergency drainage on our cliff. The team at Angus Cathcart & Sons Drainage are heroes as far as I am concerned. Like everyone else we need it to stop raining but everything else – even the days without power and water – is trivial by comparison to the fear of that Friday and Saturday.

I am counting my blessings and turning my attention to others. Yesterday I was able to introduce a friend who had lost her house to a friend who had an empty house. Today I set up a Givealittle page for another whose home was red-stickered.

For us the situation is stabilised but my anxiety has not dispelled. I am on edge, jittery. I have so many questions. What will happen now to our village community? Will our schools be able to open on Tuesday? How will my husband get to work? And the kids to school?  Will my friends be okay? Will our much loved walking tracks, the veins of Titirangi, be rebuilt?

My heart goes out to all those who have lost homes and peace of mind. Kia kaha Tāmaki Makaurau. 

Zoe Hawkins is business writer and communications strategist. She lives in the West Auckland suburb of Titirangi.

Leave a comment