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When A Cyclone Ruins Your Plans

By Annual Adventure Adventure, New Zealand, Oceania

The wind howled outside as I listened to the beams supporting my cabin’s roof groan under the weight of its might. There was no clean water, the toilet was …ugly (to say the least), and there was no electricity to comfort me as I contemplated the safest place to take cover. I was in the middle of Cyclone Ita, and it was ruining my plans.

How It All Began

I was in the middle of a road trip through all of New Zealand, which had been going swimmingly up until this point. The first sign of trouble came when I visited Punakaiki a few days earlier and faced rain and winds hard enough to turn my umbrella inside out! I chalked it up to New Zealand weather and it didn’t phase me any further as it cleared up quickly.

My next days in Franz Josef began to show more worrisome clues as I had to cancel multiple activities. My planned heli hike on the Franz Josef Glacier was out the window. My backup option of walking on any trail around the glacier at all was shut down next! Luckily I was able to make it to the Fox Glacier trail to get something out of the destination for one day. Maybe tomorrow things would look better and I’d get to do that heli-hike despite what all of the operators were saying.

Fox Glacier Trail
The clouds are starting to roll in…

The Cyclone

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of rain. After using the restroom I flushed the toilet and noticed the absence of the familiar sound of the tank refilling itself, as well as all of the electronics no longer working. No big deal, it’ll be fine by the morning.

…not quite.

Morning arrived and I was able to get a full view of what was happening in the light of day. Torrential rain was pouring down, the trees were being battered around by the wind, and our poor patio table was being knocked around like a ping pong ball.

New Zealand Cyclone Table
The poor guy never stood a chance.

So there I was, with 2 bottles of water that I happened to have with me being the only provisions I had available. With no electricity and meager rations, I spent the entire day staring out the window at the chaos outside and wondering how my cabin would hold up.

Evening came and I received a knock on the door from the owner of the cabins. He had another bottle of water for me and some tea lights to illuminate the room at night, but unfortunately that was everything that was available.

Spending The Night With A New Zealand Cyclone

If I thought the day’s weather was bad, things picked up at night. It was probably for the better that I was unable to see anything outside because I could hear the entire cabin creak and groan under the force of the Cyclone’s winds as the torrential rain pounded the roof.

I laid in bed hoping to sleep through the storm, but my imagination ran wild with images of the cabin’s roof lifting off and me going with it! After hours staying up with my mind racing, eventually I was able to shut my brain off for a bit and catch some rest.

The Aftermath

I awoke to the light of dawn creeping in to the living room. It was eerily silent and calm. Looking outside, I was treated to a beautiful sunrise and an extremely still morning. I made it! It was time to pack up and head down to Queenstown for my Bungee appointment.

Before departing, I had to step out and enjoy the beautiful morning. I explored the area and soon got a full appreciation for the magnitude of the storm. The yard may have looked ok other than the missing patio table, but as soon as I got to the road I saw my first glimpse of nature’s wrath.

New Zealand Cyclone Tree
This looks promising…

“Poor Tree,” I thought, “must have been overdue for a trim anyways.” I checked out of my room, packed the car and headed into town to grab some breakfast on my way to Queenstown.

Oh. My. God.

Debris was everywhere. Lampposts were knocked over, full trees littered the only road out of town and it didn’t look like help would be arriving any time soon.

New Zealand Cyclone Damage
We may have a problem here.

I approached the main drag of Franz Josef town and realized pretty quickly that breakfast was out of the question, and possibly my trip to Queenstown as well. A line of cars formed behind me as my fellow travelers and I assessed the situation. Just as we were rolling up our sleeves, ready to  make a pathetic attempt at moving the trees ourselves, a local arrived just in time to show us a back road detour that got us around the main strip.

Passing by the restaurants, I could see the lines of people outside waiting for food and water. None of the buildings had electricity yet so yesterday’s pastries were all they had to offer. I grabbed a brownie and continued down the road.

Making My Escape

I wave of relief washed over me as I exited Franz Josef town and carefully navigated the fallen trees along the road. I was free and clear!

New Zealand Cyclone Road
Weaving our way through the debris.

…For about 10 miles until I reached Fox Glacier town, where the entire road was shut down. The only bridge heading south was a suspension bridge that had about 1/3 of its cables snapped by the storm. I sat and chewed on my brownie as I awaited further news.

After about an hour of waiting, the road opened and cars were allowed to go through. I reached the suspension bridge and could see the cables suspended in mid air, no longer attached to the bridge itself. A crew of workers were there regulating traffic, letting cars through one at a time at no more than 10 miles per hour.

I slowly crept on to the bridge, holding my breath as it swayed beneath me. I did my best to stay smooth in my unfamiliar right-hand-drive rental and didn’t move a single unnecessary muscle. This was my last huge obstacle on my way out, and I didn’t want it to end with me in the river! The road workers cautiously waved me onward, stooping down to check the integrity of the bridge beneath me as I crawled my way through. After what seemed like an eternity but was more likely 1-2 minutes, I felt the thump of the car’s tires crossing on to solid ground.

New Zealand Cyclone Trees
Well, kind of solid.

I was home free. I made it through. I still had to weave my way down the road to Queenstown, avoiding both fallen trees and oncoming traffic that was forced to swerve into my lane, but I made it down to Queenstown with exactly zero seconds to spare before my Bungee jump. The cyclone may have cost me a full day and some other activities, but I made it through safe and sound and was able to continue my journey.
Things get crazy when a cyclone strikes in the middle of my New Zealand road trip!


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