Sandra Conchie takes a tour around the closed section of the base track this week to view some of the damage after the recent storm

 One of the major slips on the tour of the damages on Mauao - Sam Ackland.

One of the major slips on the tour of the damages on Mauao - Sam Ackland.

"Gobsmacked."

It's an over-used word but it's the only way I can describe my reaction to seeing first-hand just part of the devastation on Mauao after the recent storm.

As we meander up the Pilot Bay base track past the "Danger No Entry" sign, the first section of the track appears, at first glance, similar to a dairy farm's muddy track - surely nothing a team of eager beavers with shovels couldn't shift.

But really nothing prepares you for what is to come just around the corner and, as we get further along the track, the debris and silt gets deeper and the slips get bigger and wider.

One slip is simply gi-normous.

Tauranga City Council says there are between 80-90 small slips and seven large ones on the mountain and the major ones are likely to keep the Pilot Bay base track entrance closed for several months. We're touring just three of the larger ones.

At the first, a 30-40m wide chasm has opened up and the second is just as big, if not bigger.

I'm also told that on one part of the upper track, a 30-40m section has completely disappeared, leaving a sheer cliff face.

Looking down, I see a huge pile of mature pohutukawa trees, possibly 70-80 years old, uprooted like twigs and smashed to bits on the rocks below.

Around the next corner, a 25m wide chasm has formed after a huge slip wiped out a chunk of the hillside - it's jaw-dropping stuff.

Springs have sprung up where there were none before and seeping rocks continue to saturate the debris-lined track, reducing it to a brown, slushy mess in quite a few parts.

Gingerly scrambling across the mud-logged uneven track and over huge piles of debris, having to watch every step so I don't lose my footing or sink up to my knees, isn't my idea of fun.

I asked myself who was the idiot who volunteered me to take on such risky business.

Council engineer Chris Nichols said there was still a lot more debris above the track just waiting to come down.

Mr Nicols explains the three big risks make it unsafe to open up the track to the public.

There is the risk of more debris falling down from the slopes, the knee-deep muddy silt burying parts of the track and the inevitable transformation into a construction site as repair work starts.

"It's bad enough for the contractors to have to go in, let alone any public," he says.

There is no doubt it's going to be a huge engineering feat to clear the debris, stabilise the track and restore the scarred mountain after an estimated 1000 cubic metres of the hillside has slipped away.

Council park rangers team leader Warren Aitken said the track itself won't withstand heavy machinery being driven into the area and it was likely it would mean barging in the machinery and equipment needed.

The tour drives home to me why the restoration work will take months rather than weeks.

Councillor Wayne Moultrie, chairman of the Mauao project steering group, says council's geotechnical consultants are working hard to prepare a plan of restoration options by the end of the month.

Slowfish beachfront cafe owner Brigitte van Weele is finding devastation a lot worse than she expected.

She accepts the public can't be put at risk but still hopes the Pilot Bay base track may be partially opened as quickly as the Mount base track was.

Sidetrack cafe owner Petra-Lee Osborne, whose business has been impacted, calls the slips horrendous.

"I don't think you can appreciate how bad the damage is until you see it for yourself."

Councillor Bill Grainger urges the public to "respect" what the council and its geotechnical experts are saying about it.

"At the end of the day, our number one priority must be public safety."

Councillor Tony Christiansen, who also came part of the way on the tour, agrees. "I'm equally gutted as everyone else about Mauao's closure.

"But everyone needs to accept that this is not something that can be fixed in a couple of days or even a couple of weeks and the ramification of something like this are going to take a lot of time, effort and money to put right."

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