A Shore Thing: North Auckland retirees live by the cliffs


Auckland has 3,200 km of coastline, and as sea levels rise and cliffs erode, some 17,600 homes in the area are at risk. No shore stuff is a Things series that talks to people whose properties are under threat, scientists trying to warn us, and engineers trying to hold back the ocean.

Atop a cliff in Auckland’s Whangaparoa area is a series of houses with stunning ocean views.

Ardern Avenue is an affluent street with retirees in houses and bowriders in alleys, but securing the key to a seaside palace requires more than paying a king’s ransom.

A carefree attitude seems to be the main prerequisite for homeownership in these regions.

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Ardern Avenue in the Whangaparoa region north of Auckland passes near the edge of the cliff.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Ardern Avenue in the Whangaparoa region north of Auckland passes near the edge of the cliff.

Coastal erosion is not a new problem in Aotearoa, but with rising sea levels and the relentless threat of increasingly severe weather events, it is certainly a problem that is becoming more and more urgent.

The Whangaparaoa Peninsula north of Auckland is in the crosshairs, and Ardern Avenue in Stanmore Bay, in particular, is no stranger to landslides – one house has testified to a plunging pohutukawa in the depths just a few years ago – yet its inhabitants aren’t as panicked as you might expect.

Ross Winefield moved to Ardern Avenue just five weeks ago, returning to his homeland to retire after 35 years in London. He thinks calculated risk is a small price to pay for a house as coveted as his.

“When you have that,” he said, pointing through his floor-to-ceiling windows at the cerulean waves crashing below, “you think, well, what the odds are that over the next 20 years something is really happening? ”

Winefield’s nonchalance shouldn’t be attributed to naivety, despite his recent residency, he’s no stranger to the area – and its problems.

Winefield’s brother lives on Little Manly Beach, on the other side of the Hail Peninsula from Whangaparaoa, and there’s a joke between them. “He says when the cliff falls I can stay with him, but I tease him and say, well, when the tsunami comes…”

It’s a nod to the vulnerability of the entire suburban area – with 75 percent of the peninsula made up of coastal platforms, it’s not just the cliffs that are susceptible to instability. coastal.

Ross Winefield, who recently moved to Ardern Avenue, says being able to retire to a house as coveted as his outweighs the risk of potential erosion.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Ross Winefield, who recently moved to Ardern Avenue, says being able to retire to a house as coveted as his outweighs the risk of potential erosion.

Whangaparoa was chosen as the pilot case study for the Auckland Council’s new Coastal Management Plan, which will determine how to tackle sea level rise and floods and storms in Auckland over the next 100 years.

Some protective measures are already in place – neighbor Winefield, for example, has put up a palisade wall, an iron defensive structure embedded in the ground – but the results of the plan, expected earlier this year next, will ensure that mitigation plans are strengthened. .

Ross Roberts, the council’s technical resilience manager, said the area was chosen because of its threat to the local community.

“What is happening here is quite similar to what is happening in many other areas around the Auckland coast in similar environments.

“If it was farmland, nobody would necessarily care too much, but because it’s near houses it’s a very different matter,” he says, adding that even though only a part of the cliff is eroding, it can be a serious problem for those who live on it.

The entire Whangaparaoa Peninsula is affected, from Ardern Avenue to Manly Beach on the other side.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

The entire Whangaparaoa Peninsula is affected, from Ardern Avenue to Manly Beach on the other side.

Peter Rice, who lives a stone’s throw from Winefield, is an insurance-trained man who, in his words, “needs to know the risk factor of everything.”

He did due diligence before moving in and requested a cliff report from local geologists; whose results were more reassuring than expected.

“If you asked me if I have any real fears or concerns… well, actually I don’t,” he said. “The report revealed that even if there was a disappearance of the cliff, there would be no risk to the house itself.”

Rice’s worst-case scenario? Farewell to greenery.

“We are aware of the potential for slipping at the back of the garden, but for the rest, I’m honestly not too worried. I have the impression that this erosion has been happening here for many, many decades. I’m 72, so I don’t think this will be a big deal for me for the next 30 years or so that I’m here.

Avenue Ardern is no stranger to cliff slides and landslides.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Avenue Ardern is no stranger to cliff slides and landslides.

Much like Winefield, Rice’s home on Ardern Ave is but a brief moment in the history of the Cliff.

According to Dr Mark Dickson, a coastal erosion scientist at the University of Auckland, typical cliff erosion rates are, on average, around 3 to 5 cm per year.

It may not seem like much, but, as Dickson points out, individual landslides can remove meters of cliff top in a single event, and these rates are only expected to increase over time.

“It seems likely that the erosion rates of these cliffs will only increase as sea level rise increasingly floods the toe of the cliff, increasing weathering rates and allowing bigger waves from crossing the foreshore and impacting the cliff, ”he said.

On average, typical cliff erosion rates are around 3 to 5 cm per year.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

On average, typical cliff erosion rates are around 3 to 5 cm per year.

While all of Ardern Ave is nestled atop the bluff, Dickson says the risk of erosion differs from property to property, depending on the natural flaws of the rock mass and the history of erosion on the property. a given site.

Thus, a local geotechnical assessment, such as that performed by Rice, is important in assessing personal risk.

Rice likens the danger factor of living on this alluring part of Whangaparaoa to getting on a stepladder or getting behind the wheel of a car, while Winefield justifies his decision by noting how successful every moment of getting out of bed one morning can. involve risks.

“The point is,” Rice explains, “as human beings we take a lot of risks, and we pursue these things naturally.

“It’s the same thing, that’s how I rationalized myself. “

Home ownership on top of a cliff may seem like playing Russian roulette, but if empty rooms equate to luxury mansions with charming vistas, being careful is a small price to pay for living the years. gold with style.


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