23 Feb 2023

Cut-off Hawke's Bay community relies on boat to ferry in essential supplies

4:36 pm on 23 February 2023
The army green pontoon boat Rissington locals use to ferry essential supplies across the river.

The army green pontoon boat Rissington locals use to ferry essential supplies across the river. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

It may be the world's shortest lifeline, and it certainly is New Zealand's.

The 30-metre, 13-second boat ride across a once flooded river inland of Napier is all that is keeping hundreds of Rissington farming families in food and vital fuel.

Locals, meeting exhaustion with humour, have christened it the 'Mangaone River Cruise', and Bill Marshall is the farmer-turned-pilot.

Just before 5pm on Wednesday he was on his 100th trip or so of the day in an army green pontoon boat.

"I've only taken over for a couple of days...from a guy who's done a whole week, this is his boat...he's gone to do some farmwork," Marshall said.

Marshall was wearing his firefighter volunteer T-shirt and his walkie-talkie crackles.

He must be well-versed with boats?

"No, my first time," he said, chuckling.

"Yep, I got showed how to drive it over yesterday."

Willie Absolom and others man the banks, carrying gear up and down.

"Oh mate, you should see what's gone over," Absolom said.

"It's just chokka with diesel and fuel and pumps and generators. There's probably 20-odd generators going over per day."

These must be carried up the far, high, sandy bank.

All sorts are being carried across, and up the high sandy riverbank to the road on the Rissington side.

All sorts are being carried across, and up the high sandy riverbank to the road on the Rissington side. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Aside from the boat, and some urgent medical chopper movements, the Rissington community of up to 3000 has been cut off since Gabrielle took out the 1920s bridge over a week ago.

Peter Lynam knows the boat is a stop-gap in a long game - that even when contractor Fulton Hogan finishes the temporary crossing 100m downstream, made of concrete pipes packed round with fill and rocks, it would not ease their need for power to be restored and a whole new water intake installed in the riverbed.

"To get water we've got a bore that feeds the house," Lyman said.

That now required a small generator that needed petrol - which choppers are not allowed to carry.

"It's all coming across here, in that boat, in 20-litre containers", for everybody, Lynam said.

"He did a trip today with us with a big generator and 60 litres of petrol that will get us through, probably not a week."

Water for stock was at a premium, too. The recent lushness in the grass was buying them time, Lynam said.

Farmer John Sanders was waiting for Bill Marshall on the Rissington side with a young man with rifles and packs.

Sanders could see one upside of the boat.

"Yeah, no, quite a few people up here are thinking, maybe we don't want access to the outside world, we've got such good attitude here and we hear such bad things from the other side.

"We'd prefer to be an island for a bit longer I think."

Alerts from the National Emergency Management Agency

  • Keep up to date with advice from your local CDEM Group or from civildefence.govt.nz
  • Floodwaters may be full of sewage, chemicals and other hazardous materials and should be avoided as much as possible
  • Floodwater can carry bacteria that can contaminate food
  • Protect yourself when cleaning up flood water and mud by wearing a properly fitted P2- or N95-rated mask, goggles, gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and gumboots or work shoes
  • Throw away all food and drinking water that has come in contact with floodwater
  • Do not eat garden produce if the soil has been flooded
  • In power outages use torches instead of candles, and only use camp cookers and BBQs outdoors.
  • Conserve water where you are advised to
  • Check the location of pipes and cables before you dig; see Chorus' Before You Dig website and beforeudig.co.nz for all utilities
  • The best way to assist in the response is through financial donations and NOT through donated goods.
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