Kōrero: Tsunamis

Head for the hills

Head for the hills

This ship, HMS Buffalo, was wrecked on the main beach at Whitianga, Coromandel, in July 1840. The wreck gave its name to Buffalo Beach but was largely forgotten – until May 1960. Iain Lennox, who was living there, recalls what happened when the tsunami arrived.

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Contributed by Iain Lennox of Te Awamutu.

I'd just got my old Vauxhall Velox ready for a local spray painter when the news came advising folk to prepare for a tsunami. In particular, to head for the hills. So – off came the paper I'd taped to the car windows, and off we went to the hills close by.

When the time for the arrival of the tsunami had passed, we headed back into the village. We found that there hadn't been any big wave, but (and this was still happening), there were several extra high and low tides with only a short time in between them. The main beach at Whitianga is named Buffalo Beach, after a boat that was wrecked there. The tsunami effect exposed the remains of the wreck for the brief time of each low tide. So the wreck became of great interest to the locals.

Also, the narrow gap where the ferry crossed the estuary opening from the wharf to Cooks Beach would normally have quite a flow with an ebbing tide (some 5–7 knots), but during this time it was almost like a cataract of water.

In those days, with the tight import controls it was well nigh impossible for most Kiwis to buy a car, so it was quite a moving thing to see in a local’s garage, a brand new Ford Consul. The water had come up as high as the window – the owner had not heeded the tsunami warning.

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Alexander Turnbull Library
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Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Eileen McSaveney, 'Tsunamis - Experiences of tsunamis', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/community-contribution/9400/head-for-the-hills (accessed 22 October 2019)

Story by Eileen McSaveney, published 12 Jun 2006, reviewed & revised 1 Aug 2017