South Island Stories and Tips

New Land

Christchurch earthquake damage Photo, South Island, New Zealand

We arrive in Christchurch two days after the big Sep-2010 earthquake. We stay in a suburb that has hardly been affected, but the city as a whole is still in a state of (excuse the pun) shock. Not only psychologically, but also literally: smaller and bigger aftershocks are still felt, like a rumble in the foundations, some like a large lorry passing by or somebody slamming a heavy door, and one or two get rather scary: a real, sharp jolt or two, the power going out for a few minutes, and then the wait – will there be another, bigger one? I can't imagine what it must be for people who lived through the disastrous one on Saturday.

The city is a little bit eerie, empty, obviously shaken (excuse the pun), the CBD still cordoned off and the public buses are not running, as buildings are being checked.

But the Kiwi spirit seems to be holding up pretty well, the lack of casualties shows how important both luck (the quake hit at 4.30am) and good planning and regulations (NZ has strict building standards) are: the NZ quake was actually stronger than the one that ravaged Haiti and yet not a single life was lost.

The earthquake and its aftermath make one realise how new New Zealand is. New, quite obviously, because the European colonisation is a fairly recent phenomenon (150 years roughly), just as - and yet quite differently – it was in Australia.

But it's also new in relative terms - the Maoris only arrived here about 800 years ago from Polynesia, as opposed to the Aboriginal people in Australia, who have been living there for 40,000 years plus.

But New Zealand is also new geologically, very much a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire (cf the earthquake): not an old, parched and eroded continent ground down to red dust by the millennia, but a sharp and jagged rocky island still frequently shaken up by the volcanic and seismic activity.

Altogether, it seems incredibly different from Australia. The colours are different too: lost of green, blues of all kinds, silvery greys and greyinsh blues.

There was no mammals in New Zealand before the Pakeha arrived. There is no venomous creatures. And as you look out from the East Coast, the next land is Antarctic.

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