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Floods leave roads of knee-deep mud

Byl’s fencing was wrecked by flooding, and his paddocks are deep in sediment. PHOTOS/GRACE PRIOR

Thick, sticky mud has coated Kaiwhata Rd east of Carterton and wrecked newly sewn paddocks after a major rainfall. Times-Age rural reporter GRACE PRIOR reports.

After a downpour in November last year, Kaiwhata Rd residents became stranded when a landslip blocked the river’s flow and flooded nearby farms.

The flood made its way into farm buildings, cut power, and forced residents to evacuate.

Resident Martin Byl had only just re-sown 4ha in grass, investing about $3000 when the weekend’s deluge hit.

His paddocks are now covered in knee-deep sediment, wiping out thousands of dollars of investment that he’ll likely never get back.

Kaiwhata Rd covered in mud, with a view of Martin Byl’s house.

After driving down what seemed to be more of a tramping track than a road, surrounded by miles of pine forest, I was met by a “road closed” sign less than 300m from my destination – Martin Byl’s farm.

After a slight panic that I had, in fact, gone the wrong way. I got out of the car, looked up the road, and decided to shift one of three road cones so I could make it to the farm.

Once cautiously cruising down the damp gravel road, I arrived at Byl’s gate.

I was met by Byl and his neighbour Edwin Bannister – they were having a chat on the deck.

Byl and Bannister were quick to point out what the flood had left behind – 4ha of paddocks covered in mud and a road covered in thick sludge.

It was hard to tell that what lay under the sludge was the main road through the tiny three-household settlement of Kaiwhata, and not a farm track next to a milking shed.

Byl, Bannister, and I piled into Bannister’s utility vehicle and drove through the sludge to have a look at the slip that had again fallen into the river.

Martin Byl and neighbour Edwin Bannister standing by the gap where water flows through the slip.

Trudging through the thick and sticky mud, we made it to the river.

Byl recounted the three massive slips which had happened in the past two years, seriously testing the small rural community’s resilience.

He said the first slip happened two years ago but hadn’t caused much trouble.

The second slip happened last November, trapping some of the community for a week.

This third slip at the weekend caused similar flooding and has wrecked some of Byl’s farm again.

In an attempt to help me get a good photo of the slip, Byl suggested that we head across a thick plain of mud, some knee-deep.

We realised that this wasn’t the best idea the first time I got stuck, but we were determined to continue on in the name of photography.

About halfway to our desired point, I became stuck for at least the third time.

A Greater Wellington Regional Council land management officer came to fish me out.

Eventually abandoning my slightly oversized gumboots, I made a run for it up the muddy hill in bare feet, leaving the poor land management officer carrying my gumboots for me.

From a distance, I directed Byl to take the photo we had wanted.

Bannister said some of the debris now sitting in the Kaiwhata River had made its way 750m from the peak of a nearby hill.

Residents had attempted to dig a channel after the last slip so the water could flow through again – unfortunately, this wasn’t quite enough.

Edwin Bannister trudging through mud to the river.

Bannister’s family have farmed in Kaiwhata for three generations and had never seen the flooding quite this bad. He said it was either completely dry in the summer, or they’d get hundreds of millimetres of rain all at once in the winter.

Byl and Bannister were worried the flooding would only continue to worsen as they pushed through the winter. They said they were bound to have a big rainfall again.

“There’s no point bothering trying to clear the paddock until it’s dry, which won’t be until summer. I can’t even get to the fences to fix them because I can’t get through the mud,” Byl said.

He said that he had planted winter crops for his stock after the November flood, but those could not be used either because of the depth of the mud.

He wasn’t as worried about the road closure because the main way back to town wasn’t blocked.

But he did want things back under control.

Byl had moved his 220 cattle and 40 sheep to higher ground, leaving the lower paddocks barren and useless.

Power across the farm had been disconnected, fences bent out of shape, and gates half-buried under the mud. Byl had a lot to tidy up but was worried that it would happen again and again if nothing was done to clear the slip.

A Carterton District Council spokesperson said waters had receded enough to allow for sediment cleanup, and Fulton Hogan would be undertaking the work as soon as possible.

Regional council general manager of the catchment management group Wayne O’Donnell said they had been closely monitoring the site since the slip last November.

“Given the amount of loose debris in the slip scar, channel clearing after heavy rainfall events is likely to be an ongoing requirement while this work continues.”

As for Byl and Bannister, they said they were doing the best they could to make it through the winter.

Bannister said the nature of hill country farming meant they had to take what they could get from finishing farm buyers.

He said they were earning the least they ever had on the farm.

Through-the-floor wool prices weren’t lending a particularly helpful hand either.

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