Excited to arrive into New Zealand
At first I thought someone in the room next to me had fallen over drunk or something and knocked some things flying! The mirror on my wall swayed, my mug of coffee was tinkering, and I couldn’t stand up straight! It finally dawned on me about 20 seconds later when things were still shaking and my room on the 12th floor actually felt like it was going to fall from the top of the hotel that this was Mother Nature welcoming me, Kia-Ora, to the Pacific Ring of Fire. I had just experienced a 4.6 magnitude earthquake on my first evening in Christchurch! Oh little did I know then that this was the first of many and my week here was gonna ROCK like f***! It turns out tectonic plate surfing is the new extreme sport in NZ.
The very English city of Christchurch, on the South island of New Zealand, was still recovering from a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck about 7 weeks before. New Zealand has always had earthquakes but this one was actually caused by a new fault line pretty close to the city centre that seemed a rather angry one. I didn’t realise that they were still experiencing violent aftershocks. So here I was, exactly halfway round the world, GMT +12, being shaken off the face of the earth! At first a novelty, a facebook status update, a story to tell, but as I am about to tell you, my week here actually became quite a frightening experience.
An initial walkabout around the city was hampered by roads being closed and off limits due to the quake. Some buildings in the city centre were deemed unstable and waiting to be demolished, including historical buildings.
Many roads had been dug up to repair underground pipes and infrastructure. It was sad to see but from looking at pictures from the initial aftermath, the piles of rubble in the street, it was lucky that no lives were lost and pretty impressive how quickly this city had got back on its feet. All the city buildings had been through a thorough inspection and displayed certificates in the window if declared safe. Business as usual. In the heart of the city, Christchurch cathedral stands proud having sustained no major damage. Cathedral square was a lovely place to hang out with a coffee, watch some locals play chess on an oversize board, listen to various preachers, and watch the historic tram complete its city loop.
I strolled down to the botanic gardens, taking in a European-style food market on the way; French crepes yum yum! The gardens were fully in bloom on a bright spring day and were absolutely stunning.
A punt down the river Avon took me right back to being in Canterbury. Yes the REAL Canterbury, the original one, my home city in England, not the area in NZ with the same name! This confused quite a few Kiwis when they asked where I was from! So you are a local lass then? Emmmm....... Next day thought it was about time to don the hiking shoes and get a first taster of some of the scenery that NZ is famous for. I took the gondola cable car to the top of the hill just outside Christchurch, for a view of city, mountains and beaches, really appreciate the uniqueness of the location. I thought the gondola ride was a bit on the bumpy side then my Twitter live feed, that is linked to Geonet informed me that there had been another earth tremor WHILE I WAS ON THE BLIMMIN GONDOLA!!!! From the top, I walked for a few km around the rim of an extinct volcano with views down to the harbour town of Lyttelton
Punting on the Avon
I walked through forests and climbed up rocks, thinking that maybe this was not the best of ideas being on my own right next to big rocks with all the earthquakes! It was all fine though of course...
I changed hotels because it scared me to be on the 12th floor and because the wifi was crap! My new place was called ‘SO’, where I had a pretty high tech room complete with plasma screen and a natural sunlight alarm clock. I was happy here.. Even happier that I had decided to move when next morning we had the mother of all aftershocks.. I had just got out of the shower when my glass shower pod started tinkering, then proper shaking, and it went on and on and on......The whole building felt like it was on the move.. This felt like a serious one! I felt like I should so something but what? My room was tiny and it was impossible to get any distance away from both the window and the glass shower pod.
Lyttelton crater rim walk
So, I got under the bed and cowered there until the tremors had finished. It was reported on Sky News ‘Breaking News’ but at this point the phone lines were down so they did not know if it had been a serious one. I went down to the hotel lobby to find many people out on the street. Turns out this was only a magnitude 5 quake but as it was so close and shallow was the worst aftershock they had experienced, would have felt more like the original big one. Other than the phones and electricity down there was no major damage but this did shake up many in the city as it brought back some terrible memories. It scared the hell out of me too, I can tell you. Couldn’t sleep that night for thinking I was going to be rocked out of my sleep!
In an attempt to chill out, next day I took a bus inland, through some stunning mountain scenery, to Hanmer Springs, where I spent the entire day relaxing in geothermal pools, a natural steam room, and a sulphur pool at 42 degrees.
Nice little place. Good thing this helped me sleep better as next day I had booked myself in to join a ‘backpacker bus’ for a tour around NZ. Didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for. I was going to travel with the ‘Magic’ bus which had a slightly better reputation that the alternative company that is affectionately known as the ‘fu@k truck’ due to all the twenty something gap years on a big bender. I was a bit nervous and wished I had made more effort to organise a camper van and enjoy the freedom of the road. Seeing as I was going solo though, I thought it best to hop on with other travellers and give myself an easy time.. Fingers crossed...