Quake And Shake

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, April 27, 2012

On September 4th 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Canterbury NZ, which caused significant damage to Christchurch and the central Canterbury region, but no direct fatalities. And then 6 months later, on February 22nd 2011, Christchurch was rocked again with a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that severely damaged New Zealand's second-largest city, killing 185 people (only New Zealand's stringent building codes limited the disaster)- an event almost unheard of in modern Western cities. In the first week after the Feb quake over 360 aftershocks were experienced, the largest measuring magnitude 5.9, occurring just under 2 hours after the main shock. The aftershocks continue to this day with the Christchurch area experiencing between 1 and 3 aftershocks per day (they're calling it an earthquake swarm)! And yet most people have heard little, if anything, about this disaster- why?- well just a couple of weeks later, on March 11th, the Japanese Quake and Tsunami struck and the challenge faced by Christchurch was forever relegated to the back pages.
 
The earthquake caused widespread damage across Christchurch, especially in the central city (which is still roped off) and eastern suburbs, with damage exacerbated by buildings and infrastructure already being weakened by the 2010 earthquake and its aftershocks. Significant liquefaction affected the eastern suburbs, producing around 400,000 tonnes of silt (the shaking of the earthquake causes saturated soil to substantially lose strength and stiffness and it then behaves like a liquid- you now have homes and other important infrastructure effectively sitting in a mush soup).

Rebuilding looks to be quite a challenge- we were talking to a contractor from England who is emigrating to NZ and he was told that rebuilding effort was predicted to be well beyond 10 years. The total cost to insurers of rebuilding has been estimated at NZ$20–30 billion, making it by far New Zealand's costliest natural disaster, and the third-costliest earthquake worldwide.

It seemed to be a little ghoulish to be wandering around a city that is still struggling to cope and rebuild but the locals are eager to show that they are open for business and moving ahead. We did walk the entire circumference of the fenced-off area of downtown Christchurch- the area is commonly referred to as The Four Avenues and over one thousand of the 4000 buildings within this zone are expected to be demolished (and a further 1,000 require extensive repairs). As a message of resilience some enterprising business' have brought in shipping containers and set them up right next to the fenced off areas- I don't know if this will be a permanent solution but it makes for a very unique neighbourhood (and if it's not permanent, they'll certainly be easy to move!). The 'Mobile Bank' seemed a little open to criminal abuse (if they had a truck) but other than that it was a wonderful concept. On our last night in Christchurch, I felt one of the aftershocks but the Princess immediately claimed that she's the one who makes the earth move for me- she was fast asleep at the time so I'm pretty sure it was more related to the quake.

So our trip to New Zealand has come to an end and I’m still not sure what to think. It did grow on me as we explored all the nooks and crannies on offer and I developed an unexplained fondness for our trusty campervan, Big Blue. The expense is the first topic of conversation with other travelers, which is never a good sign, and you don't always see good value for the money spent. Is it a top travel destination- perhaps for passionate nature buffs but probably not for me (living in the Big Brother Country of spectacular vistas, and awe inspiring treks and journeys may have left me a little jaded?). The one exception was the thermal fields and volcanic valley near Rotorura- a big Wow and totally justifies a side trip to NZ. And for DH, the time spent with long lost relee's will remain a highlight of our trip here. Staying with the high cost theme, we're off to visit the Northern Territories of Australia!
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