My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “earthquake”

Kaikoura – Open for Business

In February 2012 I left New Zealand’s North Island behind¬†and set foot on the South Island for the first time in my life. I jumped straight on the train at Picton and travelled along the scenic Coastal Pacific route to reach Kaikoura, a small town spread along the Pacific coastline and within a few hours of arriving there I met a Kiwi bloke from Auckland, a man who to this day is still my partner. On our one year anniversary we returned to Kaikoura to partake in some wildlife spotting activities that I’d missed out on the first time around and since then we’ve stopped in on the place when passing north to Picton. And so I’d planned on doing again on my return from the Queen Charlotte Track in November 2016, having booked a night’s stay in Kaikoura as well as a trip out to see the local whales. But just 12 days before that night, the November 14th earthquake hit and the town, the coastline and the road north was closed down. I was keen to get up there as soon as road access was gained and finally a suitable weekend arose so that my partner and I (and some relatives in tow) could return to Kaikoura.

At the end of February when we travelled there, there were two points of access to the town: the Inland road, route 70, which cuts west to State Highway 7, or State Highway 1 (SH1) which heads south to Christchurch. The inland route is open 24/7 although there are many speed restrictions in place. SH1 was (and at the time of writing still is) only open during the day and is also subject to sudden closures in the event of bad weather or aftershocks. But Kaikoura is very much open for business and is still more than worthy of a visit.

The drive north from Christchurch is interesting to say the least. Prior to Cheviot (which has some clay cliffs nearby which are worthy of a detour) there is little to suggest that anything is amiss, but after stopping here for coffee on route, we drove the next section with fresh eyes. With a mixture of detours, speed limits and one-laned sections, SH1 snakes the familiar route north to the east coast and this is the most dramatic section of the drive where rubble still scatters the roadside and the train line disappears into rocks or blocked tunnels. I knew that the sea bed had lifted a metre or so along here, but the tide was out making it difficult to appreciate what was new. It had been a couple of years since I’d last passed through here so the coastal effects weren’t immediately obvious. Eventually arriving into Kaikoura we headed straight to the peninsula to walk the coastal walkway.


This is a beautiful and easily accessed walk from Kaikoura, following the cliffs round the peninsula’s coastline. We started at the south end which has a less steep though longer ascent, and it was a gloriously sunny day. There was definitely more rocks above sea level than I remembered but with the low tide I couldn’t quite decide how much of a difference there was. It took looking back at old photos once home to realise just what a difference there actually was. But nonetheless, this walk is stunning. With views out over the sparkling Pacific Ocean, and back towards Kaikoura town and the Kaikoura Ranges behind it, it was a popular walk. From up high, it is sometimes possible to spot dolphins and fur seals, although the wildlife spotting is best done out on a boat or down near the water. Kaikoura is famous for whale watching thanks to a deep ocean trench not far from shore, but it’s not common to see whales from the shore. There is also a pathway that follows the coast at sea level, and this allows a closer look at New Zealand’s fur seals. The Kaikoura coastline is a fantastic and fairly guaranteed viewing location for fur seals, but like any wildlife, they should be viewed from a safe distance and always given respect.

Kaikoura Peninsula coastline 2017

Walking the Kaikoura Peninsula walkway 2017

The same view in 2013


After reaching the car park on the northern aspect of the peninsula, we headed to a lookout which gives a cracking view towards the Kaikoura Ranges, part of the Southern Alps that spans the length of the South Island. My whole reason for wanting to go to Kaikoura last year was to hike Mount Fyffe, one of the distinctive peaks behind the town. The hiking track had remained closed for months following the earthquake but I had been excited to learn that it had reopened shortly before our trip. Whilst my partner and his relatives were on a sightseeing mission, I had a long weekend, and was planning on staying behind to hike after they headed back to Christchurch.


After checking in to our accommodation we took a walk to the main street to go to the pub for a drink in the sun. It was nice to see plenty of people about, but in relative terms, the town was very quiet considering this was normally their peak season. It was sad to see the place that I had met my partner was closed down, as was the place that we stayed on our anniversary. Even the pub we usually went for breakfast at was closed. One of the stores that I was keen to visit had also gone, and it was clear that there had been widespread effects from the earthquake. Thankfully the wildlife, which is one of the big draws for the town is still around, although the risen sea bed has influenced the way the whale watching tours run, and one of the area’s great spots for seeing fur seal pups, the Ohau Falls, is sealed off and unreachable. But the whale watching and dolphin swimming tours are still running and seem to be just as popular as ever. By all accounts, there is no reduction in sightings either, so thankfully, some businesses are able to function in a nearly normal manner.


After drinks on a rooftop at one of the pubs that was still open, we headed out for dinner at a pizza parlour. The owner’s home was unlivable and he had been moved around a few times over the past few months. Whilst I am painfully introverted, my partner loves making conversation with shop owners and staff wherever we go so we got chatting to a few locals over the weekend, enquiring how things had been for them. There was many concerns for the future for several of them, especially as some of the businesses rely heavily on the profits made through a busy summer season to get them through the quieter winter season. For many, there were big financial concerns.

The next morning we ate breakfast in a local cafe. I had planned to hike Mt Fyffe that day but the weather was dismal and the tops of the mountains weren’t even visible. My partner and his relatives were leaving soon and I pondered what to do with myself. By coincidence, I spotted a poster on the cafe wall for a free concert in Kaikoura that very day to raise the spirits of the locals and figured that would be fun. In the meantime, I headed past some murals to the Kaikoura museum, a new addition to the town which hadn’t existed the last time I was there. I didn’t expect much, but with the rain turned on and not much else to do, I paid the entrance fee and made a point of reading every single display sign that was there. A little jumbled and haphazard, it was actually interesting enough to while away a good amount of time. Other people came and went but I slowly meandered around. There was information about the fauna of the area, the whaling history of the area, immigration and it even contained the entire old jail which was effectively a two-roomed building: a normal cell and a padded cell for those deemed mentally disturbed. The staff at the museum seemed rather surprised at the amount of time I was in the museum for, but I emerged to a drier sky.


It remained cloudy but dry for the afternoon. I took my time wandering along the long shoreline to the Pier Hotel where the concert was taking place. I figured I’d hang out for an hour or so before continuing along to the fur seal colony on the peninsula, but with the likes of Sunshine Sound System, Tiki Taane and Peacekeepers playing I ended up staying till the end of the show. Entrance was free but the sale of food and alcohol was going towards a community rebuild and it was great to see such an event taking place. There was a good crowd, and I sat first on the shore taking in the view with the music as my background, then later I joined the crowd by the stage to dance the hours away. It was pitch black by the time I left, and I headed back to my hostel in the dark.


The next morning was the glorious day I was wanting for my hike. It was a little cold first thing as I headed out to the peninsula to enjoy breakfast whilst looking out for fur seals. The Kaikoura Range brooded behind the town and I contemplated the amount of altitude gain I had to make that day. I anticipated a tough hike. Again, I couldn’t quite decide if the amount of rocks was tidal-related or uplift related, but I managed to spot a heron and as is often the case here, a sleeping fur seal lay right next to the car park. But soon it was time to head off for the hike. I anticipated a full day’s walk and then I had to drive straight back to Christchurch afterwards. I always love visiting Kaikoura. It is such a stunning setting and a great place for both relaxation and activity. It is most definitely open for business, albeit in a slightly reduced capacity, but now more than ever, this place needs visitors. Although it is not as straightforward to get there as it used to be, it is still very much worth the detour.

An Update on the Garden City

Everywhere looks beautiful in the spring sunshine,¬†even a city that is essentially a construction site. Every few days my commute to and from work takes me on a different route as the road works continue to spread round the city like a parasite. A route that I could follow one day is blocked the next, and as the weeks pass, detours to the detours pop up, taking me down side-streets and residential roads in the midst of repair. In some places where the roads have returned to a flatness not seen for three years, locals have developed a sense of humour and put warning signs up to drivers not accustomed to driving without avoiding potholes. The street outside my flat has been restricted to 1 lane for as long as I can remember now. First it was dug up for the water pipes, then the sewage pipes, and now the storm water pipes. They dig it up, do the work, close it up, re-open the road, then 2 weeks later dig it all back up again for the next lot of pipes. At the time of writing, we have received notification of the roadworks outside our property continuing into 2014, as they have still to replace the lateral storm pipes to the individual properties. To me, the roadworks are like scars on the landscape, and I almost look forward to showing them off to visitors, as if to say ‘look what this city has gone through, and this is how we heal’.


As the cold and short days diminish into a memory, the cherry blossoms that line Hagley Park bloomed in a mass of pink glory before falling, and with the sunshine and warming days, the city has a spring buzz about it. The Botanical Gardens are blooming, and packed on the weekends, and the Avon river is busy with people punting, and paddling leisurely as it winds through the park. Ducklings and goslings join their parents on the banks of the river to the delight of those strolling through the gardens. The Port Hills have returned to a green colour after last summer’s drought, and the budding trees and bird song can’t fail to make me feel happy and hopeful for the summer ahead.


In the city there is continued progress. The first section of the Avon River Precinct has been completed and opened, and I look forward to this being extended along the banks of the river as it winds through the city. Buildings are popping up all over the place, and I’m excited at the buzz that is developing around Victoria Street where multiple rebuild projects are pushing ahead at once. This precinct will become a haven of bars and cafes, and the latest one to reopen is the Carlton Bar at the junction of Bealey Avenue and Papanui Road. More art work is covering the bare walls and empty spaces created as the last of the buildings come down in the city centre. Cathedral Square has re-opened to the public, and whilst the fate of the Cathedral itself is no further forward, the square itself is buzzing with people again, and colourful focal points of art line the fences around those buildings still closed to the public.


With the fate of the Christchurch Cathedral still in debate, a few months ago saw the official opening of the temporary and controversial replacement, the Transitional (Cardboard) Cathedral. Made out of large tubular pillars of reinforced cardboard amongst a steel structure, it has a life expectancy of 50 years. Designed by a renowned Japanese architect, it was and indeed is still a talking point with relation to the amount of money spent on it. I myself was initially a skeptic, but now that it is complete, I think that it is a pretty structure (well at least from the front it is!) and it has been exceedingly well used since its opening, proving a popular venue for talks and art exhibits aside from the regular church use, and there is always people around it and in it when I drive past it on my way home from work. Whilst not religious myself, I think it stands well as a religious meeting place but also gives the city a distinctive and unusual tourist attraction.


A few big changes in the city centre include the demolition of the Heritage hotel and BNZ buildings on Cathedral Square and the Copthorne hotel on Victoria Square. This latter demolition caused a bit of a news scandal when it partly collapsed during the process, resulting in a week’s halt whilst safety was evaluated to pull down the 2 walls which were left standing. The tramlines have been getting re-laid in sections and Cathedral Junction is not far away from re-opening. Within the complex, a new boutique hotel has opened as well as some apartments on the other side. It is still hoped to get the tram running on part of the network by the end of the year. Work has also started on ‘the Strip’, investor Antony Gough’s pet project to redevelop the social area between Cashel Street and Hereford Street. With work only advanced as far as digging down to lay foundations on one plot, it is going to be a long awaited opening.


In the surrounding blocks, it is a mixture of untouched buildings waiting decisions regarding their fate, empty plots of land awaiting consent or sale, and other buildings which are being demolished. There is little building work occurring in the immediate vicinity to Cathedral Square.


For a brief period between Peterborough Street and Kilmore Street was an art installation representing the earthquakes which encouraged people to write their feelings and thoughts on it for it then to be burned in a form of cathartic release. Whilst there are many people like myself that are full of hope for this city, it was clear judging by many of the comments, that there is still a lot of despair, helplessness and anger amongst the people of Christchurch. But with the impending summer comes the festivals and activities around the city, and especially centred around Hagley Park, where people can come together in the sunshine and relax for a few hours, and hopefully forget for a while all those other problems.


Outwith the city centre, the popular Bridle Path walk has reopened. Starting at the gondola centre next to the entrance to the Lyttelton tunnel, it snakes up to summit road, and down the other side to Lyttelton. It also meets the Crater Rim walk which connects to the upper gondola building and the walk itself is open in sections. Also reopened is the Godley Head walk, a fantastic coastal walk from Taylor’s Mistake round to the old World War II batteries that protected the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour. The views along the coast and over to the Banks Peninsula are amazing. Whilst several walking tracks in the Port Hills remain closed (and for some, may never reopen) there are many open and ready to be explored. I saw my first wild (live) possum whilst hiking through Kennedy Bush (they are a common sight squashed on the road), and this area is an amazing place to walk to be completely surrounded by birdsong. It isn’t far to go to find a view of Governor’s Bay from here either.


The more I explore this city, the more places I find to while away a few hours. Travis Wetlands sits north east of the city centre in the suburb of Burwood. It is surrounded on all sides by developments, but within the wetland boundary is a large lake with surrounding wetlands that is a haven for both aquatic birds but a host of wetland birds too. I have a soft spot for Pukekos and they are in abundance here. The wetlands also has a fantastic view south towards the Port Hills.


A few months ago, I went to Orana Park on the outskirts of Christchurch on a whim. I’m not a big fan of zoos and wildlife parks because a lot of them fall short with the standard of enclosures, but Orana is New Zealand’s only open-range zoo, and it was a nice day so I thought I’d give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s not huge by any means, but it was a nice size to walk round and I paid a little extra for a drive through the lion enclosure. Crammed into a large cage on the back of a truck, we trundled into the lion enclosure during feeding time, and I have to admit I was quite thrilled to have a fully grown lion jump on the roof and drool through the bars above our heads. It was the closest I had ever, and probably will ever, get to a lion and it was amazing to see their claws and teeth in such proximity as they snarled at each other over small bites of meat. I also fell in love with the meerkats and otters, both of which I could have just watched at play all day.


This city is constantly evolving, and it with a projected outlook of 10-20 years before a sense of ‘normality’ and completion is achieved, there’s going to be plenty of updates to report!

New Beginnings

As circumstances have prevailed, I have found myself making a new beginning in the city of Christchurch. When I arrived here over a year ago, I was shocked and a little bit dismayed at the state of my soon-to-be home city. Sixteen months on, and I am now proud to be a part of the city’s new beginnings whilst I strive through my own. It seems somewhat fitting to make a leap of faith with a new country, a new lifestyle, and a new partner in a place that is making itself new too, albeit after a much more dramatic upheaval than my own.

I arrived in New Zealand with no set plans of where I would end up, how long I’d stay, or how easily I’d get work. As I travelled round the North Island of New Zealand, another story to my life was unfolding, only this one was unplanned and unexpected. For this one was a love story. I had been in contact with an Aucklander, thanks to a mutual friend, who had moved to Christchurch prior to me arriving in the country. As time went on, our communications evolved into a meeting and a shared life in this changing city.

In September 2010, Christchurch was rocked by an earthquake which was followed by a series of aftershocks, the most devastating of which struck at 12.51pm on February 22nd 2011. Multiple buildings collapsed, trapping and killing people within, and bringing the city to its knees. Over the successive 2 years, the city has battled to restore order and business to the devastated city centre and crumbling suburbs amidst a mess of red tape, cordons, and dissatisfied people.

When I first arrived in Christchurch, it was an overcast, rainy day in February 2012, and honestly, I thought I’d made a big mistake by agreeing to live here. My tour guide and new partner, drove me round the edge of the ‘red zone’, the cordoned-off city centre, and out to the suburbs to show me the damage. I was shocked and unprepared to see the empty plots of land, the half-demolished buildings, and the abandoned houses overgrown at every turn. There were pot holes and cracks in the road all over the place, and streets that were supposed to be flat were full of uneven humps and bumps. Even the bridges were out of alignment.


Those first few months, the aftershocks were very regular and took a bit of getting used to. They varied in strength and depth, and many of the first ones were early in the morning, so I would be woken by the bed shaking gently from side to side. As time went on, I got used to the little ones, but every now and again something stronger would rock through the ground, and it was more unsettling to be sitting on the couch when the television and the balcony doors started rattling whilst the couch jerked underneath me. I haven’t experienced anything stronger than a 4.8mag aftershock, but after starting to work in the city, I regularly came across people with all sorts of stories from that day in February. Even the gentle shake created by a truck driving past was enough to set off palpitations in some people.

When I first arrived, the ‘Red Zone’ encompassed a large part of the city centre. I could see through the fences, but not very far, and having never seen the city before, I had no idea what was gone, or what I was missing out on within. I was very curious though. Looking at images on Google street view and relaying that onto what I saw in real time, didn’t help me. One of the poshest hotels in the city, the Crowne Plaza which stood domineering the corner of Durham St and Kilmore St, began to be demolished a couple of months after my arrival. Not yet having a job to go to, I spent many days at the fence line watching it being nibbled away by ‘Twinkle Toes’ the largest ‘claw’ of its type in the Southern Hemisphere. A year later, and it is hard to remember how it looked when it was entire. In its place, the large empty foot print has been converted into a quirky bar and cafe, made out of wooden palettes. At the time of writing, a large archway had just been constructed on the site too.


In August 2012, the Newstalk ZB building became the first, and to date, only building in Christchurch (and indeed New Zealand) to be brought down by implosion. After its neighbouring buildings were demolished, an auction was held for charity to win the right to press the button that set off the charges. It was a cold, grey Sunday morning, but myself and my partner joined the massive crowd that gathered to watch New Zealand history in the making. It was a proud building where it stood, but it took only seconds to slide gracefully to the ground in a pall of dust, its crumpled shell looking mournful where it lay. It was the most people I had seen in one place within the city, but amidst a quiet jabbering, the crowd dispersed afterwards into the surrounding streets like a mist.


The ‘red zone’ shrunk in little patches, each new area being filled with nosy citizens wandering in a daze through streets they no longer recognised. Many of the empty areas have become temporary car parks, and thanks to a charity project called Gap Filler, temporary art works pop up in various spaces to give colour and interest and joy to the beleaguered people of Christchurch. Where once there was a building there would appear a football pitch, or a mobile dance mat, or a sculpture, or a painting, or a square from a Monopoly board. Where once there was a business, there appears mobile cafes and takeaway trucks to offer somewhere to eat when many eateries are closed or out of reach.


Initially, there was no way to see inside the ‘red zone’ but in the winter of 2012, a tour bus was allowed exclusive access. On signing a disclaimer, it was possible to go ‘beyond the cordon’ and drive through the deserted streets of the city centre. It was eery, and strange. Many locals were on the bus with me, and I could overhear them discussing their sadness about one business or another being missing, or how they couldn’t orientate themselves without the usual landmarks or street names to guide them. Then we reached Cathedral Square, the biggest issue of contention with the rebuild. The Christchurch Cathedral is the iconic building of the city, and probably the building who’s future has caused the most debate. When I first saw it (albeit through a fence), the tower had lost its top. The second time I saw it, on the bus tour, the tower had been nearly completely pulled down. Before anything else could be done, the political debate had flared up so much, that the demolition was halted whilst the various parties fought it out. A year later, and there has been no perceivable progress. The experts can’t agree on the safety of the building, and the safety of a rebuild, and there are those traditionalists who want it restored brick by brick. Then there are those who want a tasteful replacement built that will be safer whilst still providing the city with an iconic building.


In 2013, things have progressed so much that the ‘red zone’ barely exists anymore. Most of the streets are now open to at least pedestrian access if not traffic as well. There were around 1900 buildings earmarked for demolition in the city, and now the city is a patchwork of empty ground and lonely buildings stood solitary where once it had neighbours. I can’t imagine this city in any other way, and in some little way, I feel sad that the city is to become built up again, as it is currently nice and ‘open’. Part of the plans for the rebuild involves keeping buildings capped at a 7 storey maximum, and there is to be a lot more green space created within the city limits, so I for one, hope this is enough to keep some fresh air in the place, and allow light to get into the streets below.


Every few weeks, myself and my partner take a walk round the city centre to see the progress and the changes. Some streets are so empty now, but finally, the hotels are starting to reopen and businesses are returning. Cashel Street was previously one of the main shopping precincts. Half of it is now devoid of buildings, and the other half has been transformed. Christchurch is known as the Garden City, and its two city icons were probably the Cathedral and Hagley Park. Now, the city is famous for cranes and shipping containers. Where once the skyline was dominated by tall buildings, it is now dominated by tall cranes, and in many places, shipping containers have been collected for use in all sorts of ways. Cashel Street is one example. When there were no buildings to trade from, shipping containers were stacked together, painted in vibrant colours and kitted out to allow a shopping ‘mall’ to be created, and this is the Re:Start Mall on Cashel St. Here, you can buy food and coffee, and shop for souvenirs, clothes and homewares. On weekends, there are often street performers drawing a crowd, and it has become a popular place for locals and tourists to go.


Away from the city centre, the shipping containers have been used as storage, but more importantly, they have been used for ballast and support. On the road to Sumner, a beach side suburb round the coast, the cliff crumbled during the earthquake, taking homes and large rocks with it. Parts of the cliff are still unstable, and so the roadside is stacked high with shipping containers to protect road users against any falling debris. Many of these have been painted with murals to detract from the ugly reality of the container’s presence and purpose. Within the city, some of the facades of old-fashioned buildings are currently being supported by these same containers whilst the building is resurrected behind them.


The housing situation is an entirely different matter. Whilst, in my opinion, the city centre is progressing, the reality of suburban rebuild is causing a lot of distress. I have driven down ghost streets, where every house has had to be abandoned, or streets where only solitary houses remain where all its neighbours have fallen down or been pulled down. There are streets in the suburbs of Christchurch which look like the Apocalypse struck. The term liquefaction was a word I had never heard before moving here. Having spoken to people outside of New Zealand about it, it appears to be a little known effect of earthquakes in the general public. Most people think of the ground shaking causing cracks and buildings to fall down, but in areas such as the eastern suburbs which were built on marshland and sandy soil, they suffered another problem: liquefaction. Water-saturated sediments in loose soil fragments act like a liquid in an earthquake, and essentially push up through the path of least resistance to bubble or pour up through the ground. The result is pools or waves of silty thick liquid coating the ground in surprising depths and then drying like clay. It also undermines the ground surface creating hidden sink holes that claimed many vehicles. People had to dig out their homes and cars afterwards. The sewage, water, and storm pipes took a hit, and many people were left for months without plumbed-in sanitisation, having to empty their toilets into silos in the street, and to this day, many of the drains still struggle on a rainy day leading to flooding. The water table also shifted. Christchurch has two large rivers flowing through the region, and under the ground are multiple streams. On an aerial view of the city, you can almost map out the path of these underground streams based on the pattern of damaged buildings. In the suburbs, the river bed rose, and the banks dropped, meaning that many streets now sit below the water table. This can be seen on a drive round the streets that line the Avon river where many of the houses sit on a lean.


Things are starting to return to a level of normality though. Homes are being fixed, new homes are being built, and as much as buildings are still coming down in the city centre, new buildings are finally going up in their place. There are now more and more cafes, bars and restaurants to visit. Businesses are slowly beginning to return to the city centre, and whilst roadworks are still the norm, traffic is finally starting to move through the city centre again. Importantly, the tourist attractions are re-opening as well. In Cashel St is Quake City, a relatively new museum set up to commemorate and inform about the earthquakes of the region. The Gondola up the Port Hills to the south of the city reopened earlier this year, and the view from the top is amazing. On one side is the beautiful Banks Peninsula with Lyttelton harbour, and on the other is the expanse of the Canterbury Plains with Pegasus Bay, and the Southern Alps on the horizon. It is a popular site for paragliders. On the ride up, it is possible to see some of the damage created by rockfall from the earthquake, and at the summit are various walking routes to explore.


In the city itself, there are now various guided tours around what used to be the ‘red zone’ giving the history of the place. The river Avon offers the chance to go punting, and the magnificent Hagley Park with the Botanical Gardens are perfect on a sunny summer’s day for a wander or a bike ride. The Gap Filler mini-golf is a city-wide golf course, taking you on a wander through the city whilst playing some ridiculous holes of mini-golf, 1 of which is creatively made out of material to resemble the rebuild of the city. Outwith the city is the fantastic International Antarctic Centre, all about Antarctic exploration as well as a blue penguin rehabilitation centre, and beyond there are all sorts of parks and recreation areas such as McLeans Island and the nearby Orana Wildlife Park. There is plenty of reason to come to Christchurch, and with an ever-evolving city centre, and an optimistic blue-print planned for the new City of Christchurch, I am hopeful and excited for the future of the city that I now love and call home.


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