New Zealand is gaining a reputation for earthquakes.
Since I arrived on the South Island, earthquakes have featured as heavily in the conversation as the weather does in the UK.
Where were you in the February quake?
Did you sleep through the bigger, earlier, September quake?
What damage was done to your property?
And more recently, how did you feel after the most recent quake?
We headed over to Christchurch for New Year, and although the Earthquake Tours, have been suspended over Christmas and New Year, we went into the centre to survey the damage for ourselves.
The day before, New Year’s Eve, we ate lunch in an olive grove on the way to Akaroa and I felt my first quake of the trip. Was it a quake in its own right or an aftershock? I wasn’t to know until later on we were told we’d witnessed a 4.8 quake that day.
Christchurch’s CBD is closed anyway, but the area around it was also shut up for the public holiday on New Year’s Day, adding to the post-apocalyptic feeling. The entire city centre is ringfenced and you can peer through at streets with bits of rubble littering them, abandoned last February and unvisited since. A chair sits randomly in the middle of the pavement, and weeds have begun to grow through the slabs. In the distance, a tower block of offices or parking or something leans like the tower of Pisa – will it fall or not?
Nothing has been done, and nothing can be done while the area sustains constant rumbles. It’s too dangerous.
Still it was a remarkably beautiful day, and so S took me to Sumner, the beach suburb of Christchurch where she grew up. The road along the coast under cliffs is lined with containers to stop rockfall hitting the road. The tarmac is buckled and bent, and houses teeter precariously off the edges of the cliffs, some with exposed bedrooms and bathrooms, where half the building has fallen and half has not. The church where S got married is behind a row of these containers, hidden and potentially dangerous now.
But life goes on. On Cashel Street, in the centre of Christchurch, the area was flattened and in its place are brightly coloured containers, stacked up on top of one another, where shops have reopened for business. A symbol of resilience in the face of nature. Consumerism, after all, is a more unstoppable force than Nature at times.
In the botanic gardens you can still take a punt along the Avon river. Opposite the old university buildings, the businesses that occupied the area have decamped to the lawns of houses on the facing side of the road. And on the beach at Sumner, children still chase the scurf and ice creams are still sold.
Back on our way across to the West Coast of the South Island, I stopped for a night at Castle Hill again. I woke three times, each time because of an earthquake – 5.1, 4.3, 5.8. During the first which lasted a long time, I sleepily wondered if I should get out of bed and stand under a doorframe, but instead turned over and joined the rest of the house in continuing to sleep. There was no danger to us, an hour away from the epicentre.
But now my body is used to tremors. So much so, that I wasn’t certain last night, whether the bunk I was sleeping in was shaking because the earth was moving, or because the German boy snoring on the bed below was sleeping restlessly.