With Major Sprite now on site we are spared both the task of setting up camp each time we visit Tane's Rest and travelling to and from Tolaga Bay each day for our work programme.
Being on site 24 hours a day also allows us to do more, especially tasks that take more than one day, like settling fire to Marie's enormous pile of heaped up pine branches and wood debris that she has systematically cleared from where our living space now stands.
To beat the start of the summer controlled fire season we returned to Tane's Rest with a fire permit in hand to remove the massive heap with probably the oldest land management tool known to humans. Once the fire was lit in the morning it burned all day before dying down to flickering flames after nightfall. By the second morning the giant pile of ash and embers was a smoldering hotbed that continued to smoke and flame up all day.
It wasn't until the third day that the fire could be said to be out and by then it had consumed everything leaving nothing but fine grey ash. Never having set fire to such a large pile of timber before it was a salutary lesson in the potentially destructive power of fire in a production forest setting and the need to carefully manage burn-offs to prevent huge losses. It was also good practice for when we burn-off even bigger piles, as we will need to do.
Our return to Tane's Rest also revealed half empty water tanks that should have been full.
Our inspection showed that on all the tanks the same fitting had failed and was leaking water drip by drip. The failure occurred where two different types of pipe had been joined using a screwed fitting wound into a threaded socket that tuned out to have a tapered thread. Just like driving a wedge the tapered fitting had split open the socket, a tricky repair when the socket was glued onto its pipe.
Using a rasp and some heat we found that the wall of the cracked socket could be thinned out and then split away from the pipe without damage. Gluing on a new socket and replacing the tapered thread fitting with a parallel threaded fitting solved the problem while some late spring rain successfully refilled the tanks before summer.
Thank goodness the problem showed itself before summer, and thank goodness for YouTube that seems to have a video showing you how to fix anything.
As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so the proof of the rain harvesting is in the drinking.
During the past weekend we made an overnight trip to Tane's Rest to deliver Major Sprite onto the property. To our pleasant surprise, and some relief, we found our three water tanks brimming with 2,500 litres of fresh and clean water and no obvious leaks. The overflow pipe was also full indicating the plumbing is working as designed.
The potable water tank outlet has great pressure so we will have no problem supplying water into the caravan. We may even have to use a pressure reducing valve.
There is one small glitch in the system. The slow release outlet valve for the first flush diverter is not adequately draining the first flush storage chamber, which is remaining full, so we need to find and fit an alternative. Nevertheless, the diverter is doing its job as when we emptied the chamber it had a surprising amount of sludge in it that thankfully is not in the tanks.
Our rain harvesting system works a treat - PHEW !!
It has taken three and a half weeks and the tail end of yet another tropical cyclone, the third this year, to fill our tanks from empty, or so we hope.
The following 10 days were devoid of any heavy rain before the arrival of Cyclone Donna, which began life near Vanuatu and became a Category 5 storm and the most powerful tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere in May with winds approaching 300 km/hr at their peak.
Its path southwards past New Zealand, thankfully downgraded to a Tropical Low, once again drenched the east coast of the country and Tolaga Bay recorded over 73mm of rain on the 12th and 13th of May.
This level of rainfall should have yielded a further 1,800 litres of water to completely fill our tanks. Rainfall intensities during the storm easily exceeded 5mm/hr meaning water would have begun filling our potable water tank. We need less than 25mm of rain in excess of 5mm/hr to totally fill our supply of drinking water.
Theory is one thing, practice is another and we will not know for sure how our rain harvesting system has performed until we next visit Tane's Rest. We could have been defeated by wind blown debris clogging the guttering to stop water getting to the tanks, or our tanks may indeed have filled but will be empty by the time we return if I did not sufficiently tighten a fitting, or worse still cracked a pipe while installing it.
Without water available when we installed the system we could not test it so our bounty of harvested water may be being lost drip by drip as I write this post.
Maybe we will take water with us on our next trip, just in case.
Easter has been our autumn visit to Tāne's Rest as this year Easter is late and combines nicely with ANZAC Day just after the following weekend. However because Easter is in the second half of April the weather is now deeply autumnal with cool days and the first cold nights.
Our visit was spent installing our rain harvesting and water storage system.
The summer drought on the East Cape has mercifully broken and green has returned to the palette of colours that paint the Tolaga Bay landscape. However, over the last month the rainfall pendulum has swung to the other extreme with the remnants of two tropical cyclones having made landfall in the Bay of Plenty and pushing over the East Coast hill country to the East Cape.
The first of these, in early April, was Cyclone Debbie that flooded Edgecumbe after the Rangitaiki River burst through a stopbank and caused dreadful damage. The second was Cyclone Cook that brought a combination of rain and high winds to Tolaga Bay, which might have been OK on its own, but Cook arrived just a week after Debbie had drenched the area and there had not been sufficient time for the soil to dry out.
Our little valley faces almost due east and would have been catching the wind like a wide-mouth funnel and just as with water in a funnel the wind piled up in the valley as it could not get out quickly enough. The wind at ground level would have been trapped by the winds screaming over the ridges and with nowhere to go it simply went round and round between the walls of the valley just as water does as it rushes to a plughole.
These twisting winds, combined with the saturated soil has meant that many of our pines on the lower slopes of the valley have been twisted like a corkscrew and then blown over when the soft waterlogged soil could no longer hold them up.
Our pine trees are nearly three years old so some are nearly two metres tall. Unfortunately for other growers in the area the wind and rain have also knocked over trees that are over 10 metres tall so now their plantation has been transformed from neat rows of soldiers standing to attention to a rabble of drunken sailors lurching at all angles. Our hearts go out to those foresters because at least we have a chance to straighten up many of our trees and heel the soil back around their trunks.
Cyclones and plantation timber trees definitely do not mix, especially when the cyclones hit with a double punch and we still have the rest of winter ahead of us. This is a timely reminder of the impacts of weather in the countryside and just as the drought caused challenges for others over the summer so we will face our challenges over the coming winter.
Others have been been worse affected but no-one on the Cape has faced the devastation wrought in Edgecumbe. We will be thankful our damage is only some lop sided pine trees that can thinned in years to come.
This year, news bulletins have been strangely silent about predictions for an El Nino or La Nina summer but this has not stopped the East Cape being locked in the grip of a drought that some locals are describing as the worst in living memory.
Around Tolaga Bay, except for the pine forests and tee tree the hills have long since lost their green carpet of grass, the vegetation has gone past being brown and under the searing sun appears yellow against an electric blue sky. Gisborne has recorded 36 degrees in the shade.
Friends that grow horticultural crops alongside the Mangaheia River have been searching for water to irrigate their crops but with no substantial rain since September the river's normally strong flow is now a trickle. Worse is that the river flow has been so low for so long that the high tide has forced salt water up the river channel so that where their land meets the river the water has the salinity of 50% seawater. At the house the river is 30% seawater and yet that point is at least eight kilometers upstream from the mouth of the river at the beach.
They can do nothing more than hope for rain. The government says that drought relief is still two weeks away.
Against this backdrop of natural challenges we have laboured to build by hand our roof to shelter Major Sprite. There is much satisfaction to be gained from beginning with a heap of timber, a stack of roofing and bags of fasteners and ending up with a structure that says we have arrived and are here to stay, will protect our bedroom and collect our water when eventually the rain does return. Marie has cleared the pine debris off a huge area around our living space and heaped it up for burning when we can get a fire permit.
It has also been a great opportunity to spend time with Zane before he moves away from home to begin university in Wellington, a path Grant followed 38 years ago. His labour will also turn into some weekly spending money as he embarks on the next exciting stage of his life.
This blog is the ongoing story of our piece of paradise on the East Cape we have named Tāne's Rest. Visit our About pages to read more about our project, and feel free to leave a comment on any of our posts.
Uawa County existed for 45 years from 1 December 1918 to 1 April 1964 before merging with Cook County. Click on the map to download a copy.