Gemma Price (centre) is shown at the Bay of Islands campground where a cyclone struck in December 2004.
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It is said that things are never as bad as they seem. Well, here’s how I learned that truth the hard way! We’ve been going camping for years, but last summer we were more excited than usual because we had a new tent. Seeing it for the first time, Tina and I gasped. IT WAS HUGE. It had to be the biggest, brightest, bluest tent on the whole camp site and it was ours.
When we went to sleep that night, our end of the tent was so far away from Mum and Dad’s that you couldn’t even hear Dad snoring! This was definitely going to be the best camping holiday ever. The next evening it started to rain. Lying in bed I was starting to feel uneasy. Was it me or was the rain getting louder and louder? And the wind was picking up, too! … A few hours later I woke up with a frightening start. The wind was howling so fiercely that the tent was rocking wildly. I could hear the waves crashing on the beach and the rain pelting down like bullets.
The tent gave another jerk and Tina and I both let out a scream. Dad brought our beds into their room. He was going out into the raging storm every hour or so to secure the pegs and poles. At about 4 a.m. Dad decided the worst was over and we finally fell asleep. But a minute later, I was being shaken awake: ‘We’ll have to get out of here, the tent has collapsed!’
As Mum led us to the car, we could see the damage to our new tent in the light of the torch. Right over our kids’ corner a pole had snapped in a last violent gust of wind and ripped through the material which was flapping dangerously, toppling the shelves over and pulling the pegs and ropes out of the ground. I shuddered to think what would have happened to us if we hadn’t moved in time. All around us people were battling the pelting rain and howling wind, trying to secure their tents or making their way up to the hall to safety. We huddled together in the car, dazed and tired.
When it got light, things didn’t look any better. Our beautiful new tent was completely flattened into a tangled mess, and it was still raining relentlessly. Everyone was packing up and leaving to go home. ‘I guess this is the end of holiday heaven,’ I thought, when Dad reminded us that we had taken our old tent up for some friends who were going to join us for a few night. They could sleep in their van and we could stay on in our old tent! But even so we were feeling very sorry for ourselves. We decided to go to the nearest café to dry out and bemoan the loss of our brand new tent.
‘Terrible weather!’ Mum said to the waiter. He replied ‘Yep, but we’re damn lucky compared to the tsunami victims, eh?’
Seeing our puzzled looks, the waiter brought over a newspaper. We were stunned and shocked to read about the Boxing Day tsunami which had happened just two days earlier. I felt ashamed: here I was being a huge drama queen about a tiny cyclone when on the other side of the world a natural disaster had been killing thousands. I looked at my family. I felt so lucky to have them!
None of us complained any more after that, but in some way our own small wet and wild encounter with the forces of nature gave me a real sense of how terrifying that tsunami must have been.
For us, things soon got a lot better: the rain stopped and once the old tent was up, our holiday was back on track.
So, ARE things never as bad as they seem? I’m not sure that any of the tsunami survivors would be able to agree, but speaking for myself it is certainly the lesson I learned from our adventure. I sure hope we get to go camping again – new tent or no new tent!
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