Wendyl’s country diary: weathering the storms
Wendyl Nissen recalls her first winter up north, when the country taught this city girl a thing or two about survival.
WHEN WINTER arrives in this country, so too does the weather. Storms, floods and gales. And nowhere does it blow quite as hard as on the west coast. At our home in the Hokianga I’m becoming quite accustomed to the prevalent north-wester that blows and blows and blows.
As an Aucklander born and bred, I was never much affected by storms and gales. They say the only thing Aucklanders worry about when a storm sets in is whether they’ll be able to get out for a cappuccino and the possibility that a power cut will prevent the chardonnay being chilled.
So my first winter up north was an eye-opener. We had so many thunderstorms, my dog Rosie developed a sensitivity to them. Now she shakes and shivers and hides under the bed when lightning strikes.
I learned to just trust that the house was well built and would not blow away piece by piece. But I wasn’t prepared for the power cuts. They happen year round. I now have the power company’s number on autodial as they are very good at telling you how long it will be out for.
That winter in 2014 it was out for not one day, not two days, but a whole week. The storm was particularly violent and left many people isolated and in need of emergency help.
At our house, my teenage daughter Pearl and I only had one emergency: after two days the cellphone tower batteries gave up, so Pearl was offline. For the first time in her entire life!
This state of distress paled in comparison to the fact that we were living by candlelight as I had not stocked up on lanterns and torches. We kept warm by huddling around the fire, but the wood was running low. We were cut off from weather forecasts and news because I did not have a battery-powered radio. And while I did have a camping gas ring to cook on, we didn’t have a lot of food. We were surviving on instant noodles, baked beans and rice. For me, the biggest crisis was when we ran out of milk for my tea!
We couldn’t drive anywhere because the car was locked in the garage with an electric door (more about that in a moment). We considered walking to the nearest town if we did actually run out of food, but then realised they probably had no power either.
Finally, Pearl staged a crisis meeting. We had to leave and we had to leave now! The garage door had to have a release on it somewhere (believe me, I had tried to find it but I’d never owned an electric garage door before). Pearl’s solution was to take me by the hand and march over to the farmer next door to enlist his help. As we were marching back, I managed to trip on a rabbit hole and land flat on my face in the mud, much to the farmer’s amusement.
With the garage door finally open, we Aucklanders abandoned the north. We piled into our little Toyota Corolla and headed south – only to find that the roads were flooded and we were unlikely to make it through. As we sat on the side of the road to have a think (again with no cellphone coverage), a kind man stopped and suggested we wait for a bigger vehicle to go through and follow close behind in its wake. Brilliant.
And that’s how we made it back to the city – waiting for trucks, then sneaking in behind them.
When we arrived in Auckland my husband Paul was beside himself with worry. He hadn’t heard from us in three days. “But I knew you would cope –you’re very practical,” he said.
Not really. I went straight over to my Dad’s and bought his old fourwheel drive truck off him to keep up north. I bought more torches and lanterns than a person would need in a lifetime, my pantry is now stocked with powdered
milk and tins and tins of food, and I have enough firewood to last for years.
It all just shows you can’t take Auckland out of the Aucklander, but the country can teach her a few tricks.
Rosie developed a sensitivity to thunderstorms... now she shakes and shivers and hides.