Wild weather: Lake Ohau village cut, residents rally in the face of adversity

A bridge was washed out on Lake Ohau Rd near Twizel. Video / Heidi Versey

Residents of the Village of Lake Ohau have united again in the face of adversity, after severe flooding yesterday washed away a bridge closing the only road to the Mackenzie Country settlement.

Lake Ohau Lodge and Snow Fields co-owner Mike Neilson said about 150 guests were stuck at the lodge yesterday, and other booked guests were unable to check in, but he was well equipped to respond to all needs.

“We don’t have to escape – we have all the food. I have plenty of whiskey – so there’s no rush,” Neilson said.

“We place orders once a week, so we have enough storage in the freezer/fridge to cope with a 10-day week, as always.”

Neilson was able to drive to and from Twizel yesterday, “crossing the country in a 4×4”. He picked up some essentials and his housekeeping staff, who lived in the township.

Flooding causes Lake Ohau access road to be closed off State Highway 8. Photo/Heidi Versey
Flooding causes Lake Ohau access road to be closed off State Highway 8. Photo/Heidi Versey

Guests entertained inside, he said.

“We had the usual kids running around the halls to have a good time.”

The lodge had “very strong” bookings for the school holidays and Neilson hoped the road could reopen as soon as possible so those who were stuck could get home and people could visit the ski area again. But the staff had their work cut out to clear the access road and mitigate the avalanche danger, with heavy snow on the ski area.

“We also need clear skies to do it. It’s a waiting game for the weather to turn,” he said.

Village of Lake Ohau resident Dwayne Rennie said the water at the end of his driveway was thigh high yesterday.

He said calls were made for help and a resident managed to drive off-road to Twizel to collect essential items.

“Especially since the fire, everyone is checking in and if anyone is going to Twizel…people tend to let their neighbors know if they’re coming in and if anything needs to be picked up,” Rennie said.

State Highway 83 between Kurow and Omarama was also closed yesterday due to flooding, as was SH8 to Lindis Pass and Twizel.

A bridge was washed out on Lake Ohau Rd. Photo/Bevan Rusbach
A bridge was washed out on Lake Ohau Rd. Photo/Bevan Rusbach

The next update from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency was due at midday today.

Around 60 people were evacuated from Omarama Top 10 Holiday Park overnight on Monday, with further voluntary evacuations taking place in Otematata.

Holiday park owner Erwin Beiboer said firefighters and police helped visitors evacuate and most guests stayed at the Heritage Gateway hotel across the road.

“Within two or three minutes, the whole park was practically under water,” Beiboer said.

The extent of the damage would not be known until the waters receded, but Beiboer was trying to stay positive.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the “disruption and devastation” caused by the rain had been “significant” and Waitaki’s emergency operations center had been activated.

The Lake Ohau Rd bridge washout was a priority and Civil Defense continued to support residents and visitors who were cut off.

“Council staff and contractors are assessing the damage and prioritizing repair work to be completed as soon as possible,” Kircher said.

“In some cases, this will mean waiting for flows to recede before work can begin.

“We will continue to monitor the situation around the district and respond accordingly.”

Several other roads in Waitaki were closed due to flooding, washouts and landslides and the council urged motorists to obey road closure signs.

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