9 Apr 2023

My Cyclone Gabrielle | Lifeline

From My Cyclone Gabrielle, 6:00 am on 9 April 2023

Series Classification: PG (Parental Guidance)

Director: Kim Webby

In Lifeline Ōpōtiki resident Kim Webby travels to cyclone ravaged Ruatoria to find a cohesive and well organised community hard-out helping each other but when it appears help is going to larger districts with more people and higher needs, residents start to fear they will be forgotten.


Filmmaker Kim Webby says it’s only right that Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne got all of the publicity after Cyclone Gabrielle.

But she couldn’t help thinking about the people on the other side of Tokomaru Bay on East Cape’s main road, SH35.

“I knew it would have been equally damaged but because the bridge at Tokomaru Bay was taken out it wasn’t easy to get to,” said Webby.

“Luckily I was able to get there.”

It was a 250km journey down SH35 for the former TVNZ reporter from her hometown of Ōpōtiki to Ruatōria, where she did the majority of her filming.

“I feel like that part of the country often gets missed out because they are so isolated and hard to get to but also because they tend not to stand up and complain. They are quite adept at looking after themselves because of years of having to do so.”

Webby paid credit to the strength of the people residing in Ruatōria, saying they were “making the best of it”.

“Getting to Gisborne, which is their main hub for shopping and everything, is going to be really hard for them because the roads are going to take a long time to be fixed.”

Webby says she feels for businesses like Ruatōria Pies and local tradespeople, because their businesses will be disrupted for months, if not years.

The most emotional and overwhelming part of filming for her was to see the community band together and help each other out.

“I know at the end when I was trying to sum up, I did get quite emotional and overwhelmed about the strength of the people there, their fortitude, how much they were able to withstand and the power of that community coming together so strongly,” she said.

She credits that to the predominantly Māori-populated community.

“Part of me thinks it’s a Māori community thing because they’re so used to pulling together at the marae and there are systems already in place. It was kind of just a bigger and longer experience of doing that,” Webby said.

Her short film ends with her crewmates, Jake Mokomoko and Norman Mann, sharing their thoughts on the experience.

She said the crew had no idea what to expect but were amazed at how the community came together.

“Jake and Norm were as fully involved as I was in the process and within a day we were talking about how incredible that community was and how much respect we had for them and what they were doing.”

In her own words - Lifeline director Kim Webby

DOP, Jake Mokomoko, Director, Kim Webby, Sound Operator, Norm Mann

DOP, Jake Mokomoko, Director, Kim Webby, Sound Operator, Norm Mann Photo: Kim Webby

A road trip down State Highway 35 is one of my favourite journeys. This iconic, link between my hometown Ōpōtiki and Gisborne meanders through Māori heartland Aotearoa.

Spanning four tribal areas, it visits places where life is lived Māori every day.

Cyclone Gabrielle broke State Highway 35 in two about 65 kilometres north of Gisborne. The carnage of slash, broken bridges and roads around Tokomaru Bay is well known.

I decided to travel the other way down SH 35, from Ōpōtiki as far as I could go and base myself at Ruatōria. I felt as though the news had overlooked Ruatōria and surrounds, and I knew people there.

There was another reason for going. Cyclone Gabrielle was supposed to hit Ōpōtiki and the East Coast near Gisborne. Ōpōtiki heeded the warnings.

The army came and evacuated people, vulnerable coastal communities and marae and the college stood up evacuation centres. Council, Civil Defence and iwi pulled together to keep us safe.

But Gabrielle merely flicked us with her tail as she raced on to wreak havoc further south. I felt grateful and also guilty because we were ready and safe, but Hawkes Bay was not and people died.

Ruatōria’s remote valleys were also devastated and although no lives were lost due to early evacuations, people’s lives remain severely affected and will be for months to come.

The crew, Jake Mokomoko, Norm Mann and I arrived in Ruatōria just in time to go on a mission with Monty, Bruce and Lorne, all Civil Defence volunteers who’d been on the job up to 16 hours a day for 20 days.

In Canams, little four-wheel drive buggies, we traversed creeks where roads once were, got briefly stuck in the mud, and crossed a stretch of road undercut on both sides by floodwaters. It was only just wide enough for the small Canams to pass.

At Whareponga, we met Tatai Ngārimu, the nephew of war hero Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu VC.

On the road, we’d passed Tatai’s two sisters walking a 14-kilometre return journey, to check on their brother and other whanau. They don’t expect to get their cars along this road for at least two months.

The CD team replaced a broken electricity generator and delivered fresh food.

Tatai and his whānau had been eating the leaves off their kumara plants for fresh vegetables. They worry about the future of their kaimoana, with silt covering all their fishing spots and kina places.

But they’re not really worried about themselves. Every person I spoke with over two days expressed their aroha and concern for the people worse off than them, down south.

My journey down SH 35 was an encounter with rangatiratanga, what it looks like when Māori use their generational wisdom, cultural practices such as manaakitanga and the structured mahi born of marae work, to lead and help one another.

But their independence does not mean central and local government can turn away. As one local said, they worry they will be forgotten. They have been in the past.


In this short form documentary series, four award winning Kiwi filmmakers spend 72 hours in the life of devastating Cyclone Gabrielle, capturing the aftermath experienced by their own communities and themselves, from where they live, in some of the worst affected regions of the country.

Each stand-alone mini documentary dips into the lives of people on the ground, as they take action cleaning up, rebuilding, dropping critical supplies to stranded communities and much more.

Fast-turnaround, urgent and important this short form documentary series will reveal untold stories not seen in the headlines, told from a uniquely personal perspective.

NZ On Air

NZ On Air Photo: NZOA

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes