December 10, 2023

‘Blown away the school allowed this’: Disbelief Whangārei cave trip went ahead despite weather warnings

Watch: A teenage boy is missing after a class trip to Abbey Caves in Whangārei was hit by heavy rain and flooding.

A teenage boy is missing after a class trip to Abbey Caves in Whangārei was hit by heavy rain and flooding.

The year 11 Whangārei Boys High School student is believed to have been swept away by floodwaters while he and 14 of his classmates were on a school outdoor education trip.

Now questions are being asked about the wisdom of sending the boys to the caves when storms were due.

At the cordoned-off entrance to Abbey Cave Road was a long and quiet embrace.

A school student is still missing and a search and rescue operation has just been suspended for the day after an outdoor education trip went horribly wrong in heavy rain, just after 10:30am Tuesday.  

“Thirty millimetres in one hour, followed by another hour of about 23mm of rain as well, so that combined was really quite a lot of rainfall and as you can imagine that’s running down off mountains and into rivers and streams,” MetService weather communications team head Lisa Murray said.

In a statement, Whangārei Boys’ High School confirmed the missing student as one of its own.

“An event occurred today that is hugely upsetting for our school,” the principal said.

“We are focusing on supporting all whānau, staff and students concerned with this event, with assistance from iwi and agencies.

“A full investigation will occur, but for now I have asked the WBHS community to stay united and provide support where required.”

The Abbey Caves are about a 10-minute drive from central Whangārei and are a popular spot for walking and recreation, featuring three significant caves – Organ, Middle, and Ivy.

The District Council information page suggests checking the weather forecast, noting that the caves can be ‘prone to flash flooding’. 

On Monday, MetService upgraded a rain warning and issued several others on Tuesday.

“This morning we issued a number of thunderstorm warnings, and they’re like localised warnings,” Murray said.

On the Whangārei Boys’ High School Facebook page comments included: 

“I’m blown away the school allowed this to happen. We were all aware this weather was coming.”

“I’m in shock, the Waipu area received heavy rain overnight and a rain warning was in place.”

“Real wise move… no brains at all.”

While some are asking questions about why those students were allowed anywhere near those caves despite all the weather warnings, the Whangārei community said they are doing their best now to support the impacted families. 

The principal said the school would reopen on Wednesday to maintain a sense of routine for students and staff.

But with their classmate still missing in the caves, there will be nothing routine about tomorrow.

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