Tim Nelson and his mates had been planning the fishing trip of a lifetime for several years and the Puketitiri sheep and beef farmer was in Queenstown, all set to head for Fiordland, when he had second thoughts.
A sleepless night in a hotel as Cyclone Gabrielle swept through Hawke’s Bay brought the realisation he’d better turn for home.
That was easier said than done, with airports and roads closing all over the country, but Nelson was home with wife Alice and their children within a day or so thanks to a flight, a tiny rental car and a friend’s helicopter.
“They were all safe. But yeah, it was still the unknown of how bad it was before I got home. It was certainly nice to be home and get back in touch with the kids.”
Once the waters receded, it was those same mates that took up the tools and got to work getting the farm back into shape.
“I was very lucky. We have some amazing friends all around the country. We had a couple of guys, a bank manager and a good mate, come in pretty early on for a couple days’ fencing and we had my brother in law and a couple of his mates from down south. They came in and started fencing, which was incredible, huge. We got heaps done.”
There was a lot of work, with the farm essentially one big paddock after the fencing network was wiped out.
“But I suppose we were lucky with the season that we had. We had quite a lot of grass, which helped.”
There is still a lot of work to do, but Nelson looks back and can see how far they’ve come.
“The ewes all scanned well and everyone’s been fed pretty well. So we’re just looking forward to spring.
“I’d like to think more or less this time next year everything should be back up and running.”
Nelson said the Puketitiri community has worked tirelessly to make sure everyone is okay.
“We’re all pretty good mates around here and everyone knows each other. We’re lucky to have a bit of forestry machinery up here and the forestry boys flew in and cleared the roads and all the farmers helped them and all of a sudden the road was cleared into Reddington and everyone was sort of getting around and that was good.”
As for the future, Nelson said he’s optimistic as spring approaches – “as long as it doesn’t happen again”.
“At the time it was daunting. I thought it was all over and we could never fix it but we just took little steps. Not much worries me anymore – I used to be a bit of a perfectionist, but I’ve learnt that little things can wait, you know?
“It will never be exactly the same again, I don’t think, there will always be reminders of the cyclone, but we will get it pretty close.”