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Cyclone Bola

Chapter 1   Inundation & Devastation  -  Introduction and background information regarding Cyclone Bola throughout New Zealand.

Chapter 2   Disintegration & Destruction  -  The collapse of the Wairoa Bridge and all Service Utilities.

Chapter 3   Survival & Tragedy  -  The conditions and heartbreak in the first week after Cyclone Bola.

Chapter 4   Isolation & Transitional  -  Initial response to Wairoa's total isolation from the outside world.

Chapter 5   Provisional & Interim  -  Alternative transport routes provided to access both Wairoa north and south.

Chapter 6   Restoration & Construction  -  The planning and contruction of the new High Level Wairoa Bridge.

Chapter 7   Unification & Celebration  -  The Opening of the new Wairoa Bridge and the unity of the Wairoa township.

Chapter 8   Memories & Recollections  -  Personal stories and recollections contributed by our Readers.

Chapter 4 - Isolation and Transitional

Access from the north initially, was a 25 to 35 minute trip one way depending on the traffic. Coming through from Gisborne you did not turn left into Wairoa, instead detour sign posts directed you to head towards Lake Waikaremoana along State Highway 38. The drive took you North out through Frasertown, 7.1km from the Wairoa Township turnoff, and up towards the Lake. Turning left at the Homeleigh Bridge, now 13.5km out, you crossed over the Waiau River and headed West along Rangiahua Road towards Awamate. The first 5.5km was metal road and only just wide enough for the transport trucks to pass each other. As with much of this detour, it was windy and slow. There was also a one lane bridge which slowed the trip down on busy days.

At the Awamate turn off, now 19.0km into your trip , you turned left onto Awamate Road and headed South towards the Napier Road turn off and back onto State Highway 2. At the Napier Road intersection turn off, now 25.4km from Wairoa North, you either turned left for the Wairoa South Township or you turned right to head to Napier and Hastings. For those heading to Wairoa, you continued North around the Wairoa River reaching your destination some 32km later.

Wairoa Awamate Map

Above is a rough sketch of the route taken. Now if you were traveling from Napier to Gisborne instead of going across the bottom following State Highway 2, in yellow, and through Wairoa, instead you would have turned off at the Awamate Road turnoff, red - Awamate Road - Rangiahua Road - Homeleigh Bridge - Lake Road - Frasertown - Frasertown Road - Wairoa North and back onto State Highway 2.

So for the Wairoa residents traveling to the Township from the north for supplies and groceries it took around 20 to 30 Minutes and 32km instead of a 1 minute and 1km trip over the bridge. In the first few days many on the south side went around to friends and relations for meals and for bathing or showering.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1988 was Mr David Lange. He visited Wairoa twice during 1988 and 1989. The first time was on March 11th, 3 days after the Wairoa bridge was swept away. Mr Lange was air lifted in by helicopter to the south side and walked out along what was left of the Wairoa Bridge. After witnessing the devastation and the ramifications of the Wairoa Bridge being torn apart, Mr Lange stated top priority would be given to a new bridge on the same site. Governor General Sir Paul Reeves visited the Wairoa Township on March 16th 1988 and was also air lifted in. Mr Reeves joined a few locals and traveled across the river on the army pontoon. He also agreed on the importance of a new bridge and also the necessary emergency funding.
On the first weekend, the 12th and 13th, MP Roger McClay and his wife visited Wairoa offering his support promising financial assistance from the Government. Mr McClay had also been air lifted in and out of Wairoa by helicopter.

As time went on, living in Wairoa became similar to living in the city as with leaving for work an hour before you started and arriving home 3/4 of an hour later. Many car pooled especially transporting their children to school or kindergarten. This route became the only access for those traveling through our district for sometime until the train bridge was declared safe for use.

Caught in the middle of all this was The Whirlings Circus. The Circus had travelled down the day before the Wairoa Bridge was washed away on Monday the 7th from Gisborne. They arrived around 2.00pm advising the local Wairoa people that many paddocks were flooded and there was much surface water. On arrival at Alexander Park the Circus owners decided the ground was far too sodden. The owners travelled out to the Show Grounds but decided that was also too sodden. In the end they moved out to the Race Course with hopes of setting up.
Tuesday came and with it massive flooding on the north side of Wairoa. The Circus was moved up onto higher ground at The Frasertown meat Company where they remained unable to leave town.
The Whirlings Circus did put on a performance for the Wairoa people the following week on the south side after hiking the long way around along the Awamate Road.

Initially once the water level dropped and the flow slowed up, private boats and their volunteer owners ferried supplies and people across the river. It was dangerous in the beginning with debris being washed down and the strong water current. The first boat to help the locals was known as the banana boat and this was used until it capsized on one of its trips. Boats from Mahia were bought in crossing the treacherous Bar, the river mouth. Owners of speed boats offered their boats and time to help move emergency supplies and people back and forth. Helicopters also flew back and forth. Wairoa had never had so much air traffic.

New Zealand Army

The Army bought in dinghies and used these to transport the public and supplies across the river. The New Zealand Army worked tirelessly assisting the Wairoa people in every way possible. Their presence within the community gave the Wairoa residents a sense of security and safety. Not only were they ferrying the public across the waters, they helped our elders into the dinghies and carried their supplies. They talked with the locals, offered assurance concerning the future of their town in crisis, they socialised with the locals and for months became part of us not leaving until June 1988.

New Zealand Army

In our travels researching information regarding Cyclone Bola 1988 we have found very little concerning the very large part the New Zealand Army played. The Wairoa community to this day hold the New Zealand Army in high esteem and even now, some 20 years later, are enormously grateful for the time they spent, and for everything they did in Wairoa and for the Wairoa people.

Army Pontoon

Rafts with wood and drums were made and goods were hauled across by them. The Army bought in an army pontoon and this carried many more across at a time. The Wairoa residents quickly adopted the pontoon as a means of transport and nicknamed it 'The Love Boat'. Jetties were erected on each side of the river to allow for docking and easier access for the Wairoa people.

With the influx of boats on the river care needed to be taken crossing backwards and forwards. Many wanted to sightsee but restrictions were placed and signposts were erected prohibiting boats from going any further than the former bridge. Most were crossing in front of Olsers where eventually a wooden walk way and wharf were built leading down to the barge. On the North Clyde side was a boat ramp that was used for boarding the boats and barge.

Wairoa Bridge

Transport was not an issue if you worked or attended schools or courses on the side you lived. Only those needing to cross the river were hindered. All resources were used. Waitaki Freezing worker were transported around from the township by bus to Awamate Road where they traveled by train across the Rail bridge down to Waitaki. In those days Waitaki was still using trains to transport their meat for export. Engines were hauling the carriages out to the main trunk where they were unhooked and connected to the main engines bound for Napier or Gisborne. At the end of the day the Waitaki train transported the workers back across North Clyde to the bus waiting on Awamate Road to bring them back home to Wairoa South. School buses transported the children to the train every morning and back from the train in the afternoon. The photo above shows where the buses and train met on the Awamate Road. This continued until the Swing bridge was built and then many workers were able to walk or bike across.

All schools were closed in the first week. In the second week primary school students attended the closest primary school to where they lived, hence children living in North Clyde attended the North Clyde school and those living on the south side attending Wairoa Primary, Hillneath or St Josephs. Those attending the Wairoa Intermediate who lived on the North side were asked to remain at home until a school bus service was in place. Teachers also attended which ever school was closest to them.

There were two Wairoa College's opened in the second week. One the actual college and another was setup on the north side at the Taihoa Marae. Wairoa College Teachers prepared work for both and all students were catered for. Once schools buses were running more children were able to once again attend school.

When the Rail Bridge was open to traffic the buses took the children all the way around.

Army pontoon

The pontoon became an icon on the Wairoa River waters transporting the locals to work and school. The locals nicknamed her the 'Love Boat' much to the amusement of the Army fellows rostered to steer her.

The New Zealand Army left Wairoa on the 22nd of June 1988 after being stationed here for nearly 4 months. Wairoa found it hard to let them go, they had been part of those first few horrific days and the weeks that followed helping the community with repairs and restoration.

The Army commenced sailing the Wairoa River on the 17th March and on that first day they conveyed 3666 people across the river. In the 3 months they were here they carried a total of 342,581 people across with an average of 3806 per day. Once the Road Rail Bridge opened, daily numbers dropped considerably. The largest number carried in any one day was 6989 on Saturday the 16th of April.

Army pontoon

You can see from the photo above how the army pontoon turned and docked up the bank. The pontoon was made from 4 army boats with outboard motors on two of them as below. The pontoon had a wooden fence around 3 sides and seats on either side. Once the winter weather appeared, a roof was erected over the seats.

Wairoa Bridge

When it pushed off it turned and went across the river sideways. Notice the conditions of the bank in the photo above. Those Army fellows were awesome.

Since March 16 six crews of 13 Sappers had served 15 day tours of duty in Wairoa. Each crew consists of 12 Sappers which includes junior NCO's and one senior NCO. In total 78 Army personal had operated the Love Boat with about 30 per cent completing two TOD's. The last sailing was the 16th of June 1988 at 8.00pm.

Wairoa Bridge

The day this photo was taken our Wairoa Photographer just happened to be down town. The pontoon was not working that afternoon and a couple of the Army boys had very red faces. They had stopped for lunch and had forgotten the tide was going out. Needless to say the Pontoon became submerged in the mud and hence rendered unmovable for an hour or so until the tide began to come back in and they were able to push it out. You can imagine the fun the locals had giving the Army boys a hard time.

Wairoa Ferry

The Army Pontoon was replaced with the above Ferry, which continued to transfer the community backwards and forwards across the river until the new bridge was opened. The Ferry was attached to a speed launch which powered the Ferry backwards and forwards. Many tourist also took a sightseeing trip across the river and on some of these trips the Ferry driver would take the long way over and head closer to the new and old bridges so photos could be taken.


1.    Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

2.    Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

3.    The Wairoa Star.

4.    The New Zealand Herald.

5.    Television New Zealand Archives.

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