Nature Personified

The recent flood event in Poverty Bay, following hard on the heels of the Labour Weekend flood in October set me to thinking about the history of floods and droughts in the area.

Trusty old J.A. Mackay in “Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast N.I., N.Z.” records that a flood in the area during the 1820s was called by local Maori the Kingi Hori (King George) flood. This was followed by another event in 1841, when the Waipaoa River changed its outlet. This river uses the Poverty Bay flats as part of its flood plain and, though it has been the source of much misery with its flood episodes, is responsible for bringing much of the rich soil covering to the area from the steep slopes inland.

Another flood in 1847 was thought to be worse than the ’41 event, but local Maori thought that neither was sufficiently severe to earn the award of a special title.

The Wikitoria (Victoria) flood of March 1853 must have been worse than the previous two to have earned a title. Interestingly, though Victoria was on the throne, the flood was not named after her, but after a notable local woman who died at about the time of the flood. One hopes that Her Majesty was amused.

Maori also named large earthquakes, according to Eiby in his book “Earthquakes” – such as Hao-whenua (the land swallower) which occurred ca 1460. It is possible that this rather large earthquake, believed to be magnitude 8, was responsible for lifting up the piece of land now occupied by Wellington International Airport, and ended Miramar’s days as an island. Prior to this, ancient Maori rowed canoes through this area on their way to fishing trips in Cook Strait.

Nowadays, we tend to name earthquakes and floods after the area that they affected – such as Gisborne earthquake, Manawatu Flood etc.

But the personification of nature’s “thrilling” events lives on in some aspects of meteorology. The mention of Cyclone Giselle conjures up horror images of the ferry Wahine sinking in Wellington Harbour with all those passengers aboard, while we stood by unable to reach her in 1968. Giselle was also responsible for the highest wind speed ever recorded in New Zealand – 267 km/h in Cook Strait. It was a vicious storm.

The name of Cyclone Bola reminds us of those Poverty Bay hillsides scarred by massive slips, and grass and debris caught in fences and on overhead lines in 1988.

I wonder what natural event might personify 2008?

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