Auckland homeowner's emotional journey as first property buyouts finalised

Almost a year after the devastating storms of Auckland Anniversary Day and Cyclone Gabrielle, four Auckland properties have become the first to be bought out by the council.

The council's recovery office has been tasked in each case, with deciding whether there is an 'intolerable risk to life' from future weather events.

They're working through more than 2000 flood and landslip assessments, of which 500 have had their categories decided. Of those, 60 in category three are going through the voluntary buyout process.

Newshub spoke to one owner who finalised her buyout on Friday.

Ten months after Muriwai's night from hell, Caroline Bell-Booth has got just what she wanted for Christmas.

"Moments ago we received a letter saying that everything was in motion, and the buttons have been pressed and settlement has been achieved," she told Newshub.

After a council inspection, Bell-Booth's husband handed their house keys to staff at 10:30am. Their home buyout is complete.

"What we consider to be a fair deal. Like our neighbours, nobody's running off to the Lotto shop as if they've won but similarly it leaves us in a financial position to move on," she said.

Cyclone Gabrielle left Bell-Booth's dream home pretty much unscathed but the pōhutukawa above are just one downpour away from collecting that home and carrying it down the hill.

"At times harrowing, but at times possibly one of the most real, heart-wrenching truthful journeys I've ever been on," she said.

We asked Bell-Booth to come back with us to her house one last time. But she refused. She couldn't face it.

"I leave a big piece of my heart there. It was a home that my husband and I loved and we never had any plans of leaving it and we built our future and I guess in some ways the concept of ourselves around that home and that life that it provided us," she said.

"To go back to it now, not just stripped of just its contents but our future and our love... I wanted to leave it as a place that I can hold dear in my heart that's full of love and laughter."

Newshub last filmed in Muriwai four months ago - and in that time it has come back to life.

There's a new deli, a place to get a drink, a store, and even accommodation.

Clare Bradley owns Muriwai Lodge. She said people like Caroline Bell-Booth will be relieved.

"For much of the year people have been living with that huge anxiety and uncertainty and for them to have got to a point where they've agreed a price with council, the process and the policy is all complete and actually settlement has taken place - to be honest, I wouldn't have thought settlement was going to happen but it has and that's good," Bradley said.

In Muriwai, 65 homes are unlivable, dragging the dreaded phrase 'managed retreat' back to the table.

"2023 has really put a big exclamation mark around an unstable climate and really climate adaptation is something that's right at the top of the agenda for the world. And for Auckland, that's certainly been very evident for flooding and landslips," said Mace Ward, deputy group recovery manager at Auckland Council.

But after this bittersweet day, the future for Bell-Booth and many others lies elsewhere.