Reminiscing: the 1953 Ashley Flood

The recent high flows in the Ashley River brought back some memories.

In January 1953, I was a 5-year old boy on holiday at Waikuku.  I remember my grandfather coming into the bach and telling us that the Ashley was in flood.  We were in Pine Avenue, on the south side of the lagoon and the bach was on quite high ground.  I don’t remember any water near us, but it had flowed into the lagoon and seemed to stretch inland forever.  I remember the sandhills, where the surf club now is, being dug out to let the water out – which, of course, it did in a great rush.  On the south side, we were isolated and supplies were got to the people on that side by a sort of flying fox at first, and later by connecting up a footbridge across the remains of the road bridge that had been washed out (there is a culvert there now).  Air drops of food were made to the store across the lagoon.

There was a caretaker’s house that was undercut by the water in the lagoon.  It was somehow stopped from toppling in and was later moved a bit south.  I believe it is still there – the northern-most bach in Pine Avenue, on the seaward side.

Eventually, people from that part of Waikuku left in a convoy down the beach to Kairaki.  There, my uncle had arranged for a tractor to pull the cars over the last difficult piece by the Waimakariri rivermouth.  The cars kept in line.  My mother had a little baby Austin 7 and it was third in line.  It couldn’t keep up with the first two in the sand and so the rest of the convoy had to drive at her speed!

I didn’t know it then, but I know know that the Ashley broke out just north of Rangiora and from there headed across country.  This stretch of the Ashley is still a worry: it is a narrow part occasioned by the short length of the road bridge.



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