Raoul Island Diaries: Hammered by Cyclone Bune

DOC on Raoul Island —  27/06/2011

Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC have a small team of staff and volunteers who live on the island in relative solitude. Their main focus is controlling weeds on the island, maintaining infrastructure such as buildings, roads and tracks, and carrying out work for Met Service and GNS.

Since the island is so remote, we get these diary entries from the team and post them up on their behalf. Today’s diary is by Raoul Island Ranger – Threats (Weeds) & Biodiversity, Toby Shanley.

The tail end of cyclone season

By late March life here on Raoul Island had settled into a familiar routine made up of weeding four days a week, maintaining tracks, roads, grounds and infrastructure one day a week and for the most part exploring our beautiful surroundings on the weekend.

Raoul Island hostel.

The Raoul Island hostel on a calm day!

The end of March is usually seen as the end of cyclone season and it appeared the island was going to survive the summer unscathed by any major weather systems. But this was all about to change! On 26 March we woke to tremendous surf pounding the north side of the island, and although the weather was calm and fine this was a sure sign that trouble was brewing to our north.

Cyclone Bune is on its way…

A quick check of the weather map confirmed our suspicions as we saw a large storm brewing just south of Fiji. A Google search informed us that we were looking at tropical cyclone Bune (pronounced mm-boo-nay), which had just been upgraded to a category three cyclone. We also received a sat phone call from Metservice ensuring that we were aware of the cyclones proximity and they informed us that it was forecast to pass very near us as it travelled south.

The cyclone travelled very slowly towards us for the next two days and the swell grew until the whole island seemed to rumble under the force of the pounding waves. Then on the afternoon of Monday  28 March the winds began to rapidly increase as the cyclone approached us.

Fishing rock being pounded by surf.

Fishing rock being pounded by surf whipped up by Cyclone Bune

By this time all the necessary precautions had been taken so that light objects would not blow away and the hostel was as secure as possible.

…and Bune arrives!

By early evening the wind was screaming through the trees that line the edge of the cliff out in front of the hostel and leaves and small branches were being tossed high into the air. The winds continued to increase until around 8pm when all of a sudden they dropped completely leaving a very eerie silence.

We all went out on to the lawn and marvelled at how still and quiet it was compared to the chaos of a few minutes prior. This was the eye of the cyclone and we were unsure how long the stillness would last. We all went to bed expecting that any second the wind would return as strong as ever.

The trailing edge of the eye finally passed us at around midnight and the wind returned with renewed ferocity. The wind was now coming from the south west as opposed to the afternoon when it had been blowing from the north east.

Our accommodation is well sheltered from the north east but not so much from the south west and so we all had a very sleepless night. The wind seemed to build up in the hills behind the hostel and then coming roaring and screaming down towards us in regular violent gusts. But by morning the worst of it was past us.

The damaged foxway shed.

The damaged foxway shed

Surveying the damage

The task for the following few days was obvious, to survey the damage and to prepare for the cleanup. The first two priorities were to check our water supply and the road to our landing point which is 3 km away from the hostel. On checking the buildings around base we discovered that two had suffered substantial damage with one missing half of its roof.

The news back about the water supply and road was not good either. It looked as if the spring that we take most of our water from had been submerged by a giant slip and the road to the landing was covered in huge fallen trees. It was obvious that the cleanup would need to be started as soon as possible.

To add to the urgency of it we were due for a visit from the Heritage Expeditions cruise ship the Spirit of Enderby within two weeks. Over those two weeks the team put in a huge effort to clear enough of the roads and tracks so that we could show the passengers on the expedition some of this beautiful island we call home.

Forest flattened by Cyclone Bune.

Forest flattened by Cyclone Bune

The cyclone put the weeding on hold but we should be back into it by mid May when a team of people come up with the Navy to help clear the rest of the roads and tracks. The Navy will also bring us food and supplies for the next six months and four new volunteers who will live and work with us until we leave the island in late October.


To the vollies who are leaving us Nicki, Maree, Terry, and Nigel a huge thank you for devoting a part of your lives to help restore this amazing island.

DOC on Raoul Island


The Raoul Island diary is written by "Raoul Islanders" - DOC staff and volunteers living and working on Raoul Island in the Kermadec Island group. DOC staff include a team leader, mechanic and rangers. Up to 10 volunteers spend approximately 5 to 6 months on the island helping DOC staff get rid of weeds.