Garden Manager Guy Hessell is pictured in front of where the bridge connecting the gardens would usually sit. Underneath, the river is covered by mud. It’s impossible to enter the gardens from its main entrance side now. Photo / Michael Cunningham
After 25 years of hard work to receive a five-star rating the dedication of volunteers at the Whangārei Quarry Gardens has been quashed by two major slips that have closed the local hotspot.
The landslides have placed the future of the gardens and Quail Cafe in jeopardy as the true extent of the damage will be unknown until Geotech reports have been completed.
Both were closed yesterday afternoon after Civil Defence deemed the area unsafe.
Garden manager Guy Hessell said “devastated” volunteers were “putting on a brave face”.
“We were making serious progress [but] now we’ve taken a major step back, and we’re not knowing what the first step is to recover the garden.
“It’s really up to the Geotech engineer and insurers,” he said.
Last month the gardens were awarded a five-star rating – one point away from becoming an international standard garden.
But what had started as an exciting year for trustees, volunteers and visitors has now become a nightmare.
Hessell said they were “always up against” the lay of the land but now “nature is sort of having its say”.
He felt “numb” and didn’t know where to begin.
While the east side of the garden has escaped without major damage, much of the west side has been completely obliterated.
The bridge that connects the entrance to the gardens with those on the east side is now gone, smashed into pieces by the sheer force of the slip.
Coupled with an undermined totara tree on the hill, Quail Cafe has been yellow-stickered, with serious concerns for the building’s stability and the safety of cafe patrons and staff.
The second slip is the largest, triple the size of one last month.
It has decimated the Arid Garden and two shelters that were completed weeks ago.
One sits flattened at the bottom of the slip, and another is buried underneath tonnes of mud and vegetation.
The sheer power of the earth’s movement can be seen in the wrecked structures.
To gauge the sheer size of the slip is difficult unless you are directly below it. The slip reaches hundreds of metres down the cliffside, vegetation, rubble and thick mud lays in piles.
Another rainfall event could spell further disaster as much of the unstable land is simply sitting and waiting for an extra push downward.
Hessell said the land could be “moving for years” – placing volunteers in a precarious position.
Quail Cafe owner Lily Grau said the damage has “shocked” her and her 12 staff.
“It’s so much damage to an incredible place,” she said.
Despite the cafe looking untouched, the ground above and below is unstable, which has resulted in a yellow sticker on its doors.
She’s called it a “worst-case scenario” and described herself as “heartbroken.”
“It’s the thought of losing everything you’ve worked for,” she said.
Grau is now sitting on half a million dollars of debt. A Givealittle page is soon to be set up, as the hospitality industry rallies to support Grau and her staff.
Both the gardens and cafe have no idea when they’ll next be open. Geo-tech reports will reveal the future of both, but for now, it’s a nail-biting wait.