« To Write Or Not To Write? | Main | Brendon And The Easter Eggs »

Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 42 - Rain, Rain (Part One)

…I opened the flap of the tent and walked outside. To my utmost horror, above the campsite I could see the whole hillside moving towards us as water. It was towering above me and roaring…

Gayle Woodward tells of a New Year’s camping trip which ended horrifically.

A few days after Christmas we were on the road early in the morning travelling back to Lake Waikaremoana to camp at Mokau Camp. We set our alarm for 3am and tucked the boys, fast asleep in their pyjamas into the back of the station wagon. They would not wake until we were at the camp.

We would meet Carol and Owen, who were living in Hamilton, at the top of the ranges and stop in a car park on the side of the winding metal road to have coffee and tea from a thermos. It would be so cold there, sometimes there was left over snow on the banks.

Our trailer was packed high. We had acquired a new canvas tent which Woody had altered, using his Mum’s sewing machine, to have a sleeping annex at the back. There were four new poly stretchers and a new cooker unit which sat on a wooden kitchen arrangement. This began a lifelong interest for Woody in camping in the wilderness and acquiring various improvements that would make life under canvas comfortable and easy.

There was friendly rivalry between Owen and Woody to see who could think up and produce the best ideas. Carol and Owen produced a set of folding bunks for their kids, while we had the kitchen unit which gave us storage and a firm surface for our cooker. Then we acquired an old set of four drawers which were painted and in use, one drawer for each family member’s clothes. One year I had a macramé bag to hold onions and garlic, hanging from the centre pole. The year I thought of bringing a brush and shovel along to sweep out the grass from the tent floor, I called out to Carol “I’m doing the vacuuming, Carol!” The next year she had a set too.
This year, 1975, was wet. It was raining when we erected our tent and it rained constantly over the next few days. The wind came up early on New Year’s Eve and most campers tied their guy ropes to their cars parked alongside. The boys were bored. We would send Jeff to play in Brent’s tent and Carlene would come to ours so there would be some variety in their days. Jeff was six and Mark was nearly but not quite three.

We partied on New Year’s Eve but it was somewhat subdued as we tried to keep things way from the sides of the canvas tents and dug trenches around the outside to try to keep water out. The rain fell heavily. Woody and Owen decided to leave early in the morning to try to find the best way for us to get out of the park. We thought there would be slips blocking some of the road.

Carol and I would try to pack up as much of the gear as we could with a view to leaving for home as soon as the men returned to drive us out on the good route they had found. We had decided that this holiday was a washout. We would call it quits. The camp was full but quiet as all campers were hunkered down inside their tents. In the morning, I got breakfast for myself and the two boys and had heated water for dishes and washes. We had to run to the toilet block huddled under umbrellas and hooded raincoats. The ground was saturated.

The tent was tidied, beds made and many toys and clothes packed to leave as soon as Woody returned. The boys were playing on their stretchers when I heard a strange rumbling sound. I opened the flap of the tent and walked outside. To my utmost horror, above the campsite I could see the whole hillside moving towards us as water. It was towering above me and roaring.

There was no time to think. I screamed, “Carol! Run!” and then grabbed Mark in my arms and screamed at Jeff to run. He had been apt to argue lately but this day must have seen something in my face as he ran without a word.

We ran to the toilet block, which was made of concrete and gave an impression of safety, and stood with many other campers to watch as a lahar sodden with logs and boulders surged swiftly down the hillside and through our camp sweeping small nylon tents with it and uplifting boats, trailers and anything not tied down out into the lake.

Our tents were in the path. Mud had swept through the tent covering our beds and the tent floor with silt. Huge logs were tossed throughout the camp, some stopped by our car. I was in shock. I said to a man, “I’m pregnant!” He handed me a cup of tea, which I gratefully gulped down.

I had started to shiver, whether from being wet and cold or shock I do not know. The tea was thick and sweet and I, who have never been able to drink sweetened tea before or after that time, really loved that drink. Carol was safe beside me with her two children. I looked gratefully at mine. Jeff was white faced and frightened. Carol explained that our husbands had gone out to find safe routes home.

To be continued next week.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.