Raglan surf lifesavers hope “that’s it now” through to summer and that they’ve seen the last of winter storms which have left the Ngarunui Beach patrol tower perched only metres from the edge of a 2½ metre cliff and prevented them launching their IRBs from the beach in an emergency.
Convener of lifesaving Keagan Gaakeuken told the Chronicle this week he did not think the tower – built about 2011 – was under threat as it had “very, very deep foundations” to allow for high seas and erosion.
And though there’d been no beach access for IRBs for a good month or so now, fortunately the club’s last callout was before the erosion. “We’ve not had to do any rescues for six or seven weeks,” he said.
As a precaution the club had organised a few IRB training sessions meantime around at Manu Bay, which was about a 4km drive away and added about 15 minutes to emergency response times.
Trust Waikato Raglan Surf Life Saving Club president Andrew Withers conceded it was possible the tower could come under threat as the erosion was extreme.
But he pointed out if the old tower was still in use “it would’ve been completely washed away”. The old tower had been sited further seaward from where the end of a wooden fence now dangled high in the air.
“It’s lucky we built this new one,” he told the Chronicle.
The erosion has exposed a length of blue hose that some beach-goers are grabbing hold of to get down to or up off the beach, but Keagan confirmed it was just an overflow water pipe and not Vodafone’s internet line to Sydney.
“The internet cable is still buried below,” he said. “We thought we might’ve seen it when sand got pushed around there in the process of making some temporary steps, but we’re not sure.”
Keagan said the club was adopting a wait-and-see attitude before making a plan for the summer lifesaving season.
“If the [erosion] situation doesn’t improve we’ll have to figure out some solution for access.”
Waikato Regional Council senior hazards advisor Rick Liefting said it was up to the club, his council, the Waikato District Council and the community to work together on what to do next.
On the access question it was “a matter of what’s going to work now and into the future.
“We want to leave the beach as natural as we can, so is it appropriate to put down hard asphalt or is it better to have something that’s more flexible in the sand?”
It had to be aesthetically pleasing in terms of the environment, he added, so concrete was possibly not the answer.
District council service delivery general manager Tim Harty said a community/multi-agency approach was being taken. “The regional council is leading and we are being guided by them at this point.”
Mr Liefting said there was evidence to suggest the beach had gone back to bedrock before, but exactly when was unknown.
“It’s the nature of the west coast that erosion comes and goes in cycles,” he explained, whether it be seasonal shifts or the presence of wind patterns like El Nino. “It [the problem] is currently low beach volumes, he added, with both Port Waikato and Mokau now experiencing similar beach access problems due to erosion.
Port Waikato’s current situation is much more dire than Raglan’s. The district council has deemed the tower at Sunset Beach unsafe, even though it was opened only in 2008, and the structure is being moved at least 20 metres inland at a cost of about $50,000.
However the Raglan Club has been through even greater upheaval as a result of erosion in the recent past, opening a new clubhouse high over Ngarunui Beach in 2002 after its old club rooms at Ocean Beach looked in danger of succumbing to the sea. The old club rooms were demolished – needlessly as it turned out – and the site now forms part of the gravel parking area off the end of Riria Kereopa Memorial Drive.