Saradha arrives from Wellington, queasy from a rough landing. She steadies up over breakfast and we set off for Golden Bay. On the Hill a queue of traffic is at a standstill and a policeman tells us there's a tree down but we can get past it. We carry on, stopping in Takaka to dash across the road in a downpour for coffee and cake at the Wholemeal Cafe.
The last lap takes us up the long winding driveway to Shambala, where we have booked a room. Carefully crossing the ford we come on a group of calves who scatter as we drive slowly up to them. Two run on ahead of us till we reach another fallen tree. I pull over and greet the man with a chainsaw who proves to be John, the owner, clearing his neighbour's trees to re-open his driveway. We wait while he pulls some trunks aside with his ute and takes off the last overhanging bough so that we can carry on to the lodge.
A fire is burning in the common room and we choose our beds and settle in for the rest of the afternoon, sharing crackers and cheese with Emily from England who has been there for a few days and meeting Martin from Germany on his gap year.
In the evening we take them both with us to the Mussell Inn where Saradha reads her poetry to a small but warm audience who have braved the rough weather. The cosy fire and generous vege burgers make it a good place to be. Afterwards, the ford seems fine as we return for the night.
In the morning we go to John's guided meditation session, a peaceful contrast to the stormy sea and thrashing branches outside. He tells us the ford is too high to cross and is unlikely to go down till late afternoon and kindly provides rice and curry to keep us going as we came prepared only for breakfast.
The afternoon is passed reading, napping, chatting to the backpackers. We walk down to look at the ford which is roaring and gurgling through the throat of the stream and has filled up part of the driveway. By five o'clock it's no better. We're resigned to staying another night. Despite the cosy room, friendly backpackers and John's hospitality, the feeling of being trapped makes us tense. We have a little of the rice left and the backpackers contribute till we have enough to serve eight of us a delicious vegetable curry with rice, dahl and salad. One of the French men, who has eaten, sits with us and joins in the conversation because that is what you do when a meal is served. It's convivial and they are lovely but we do want to go home.
In the morning the weather has calmed. We go to meditation, then set off, driving cautiously through the ford and out to Collingwood for breakfast. They are excited about hosting the 125th anniversary of a rugby game and relieved the weather has settled enough to let the 300 visitors arrive.
As we set off for home we see downed trees and broken branches, lakes in all the paddocks and a general air of devastation.
Sarardha tells me, 'I was thinking at one point when we were trapped “why is this bad thing happening to me?” Then I realised, it's keeping us safe.'
Looking around we see how true this is and how what we thought was bad luck was actually sanctuary in a storm: a warm room among kind and interesting people who fed and entertained us, keeping us safe.