24th December 2011
Three weeks ago the skies were blue as we flew into Christchurch and, as we descended for our landing, I was struck by how you could see the flat green Canterbury plains stretching out to the south of the city until they hit the high mountain ridge of the Southern Alps to the west, beyond which you could then glimpse the wide blue ocean again.
New Zealand's south island is effectively long but relatively narrow which makes crossing from one side to the other reasonably easy and offers up some spectacular mountain passes. All looked so beautiful and tranquil in that afternoon sunshine, but as we have travelled around New Zealand in these recent weeks, we have come to understand so much better what a volatile piece of land this country is. From its formation in ancient times when it broke from the supercontinent of Gondwanaland and drifted west across the ocean, was then almost submerged before rising again with the deep forces within this mighty planet of ours, New Zealand is a land under constant physical tension from the tectonic plates which grind and shift far far below it.
As we came to the end of our campervan adventure yesterday in Auckland, we learned of the earthquake which had again rocked the city of Christchurch in the south island, already damaged beyond repair in the massive earthquake of February this year. The doorman who greeted us at our hotel comes from Christchurch and had just confirmed with a telephone conversation that his family were all ok. He still owns a property down there and was just about to get his insurance hand-out from the February quake, but the new quake means it will have to be re-assessed and he will have to wait nearly another year before he may get some compensation.
The residents of Christchurch are tiring of the quakes - the fault line which no-one realised Christchurch had been built on until relatively recently. Many are moving south towards Dunedin, others are choosing to emigrate to Australia where wages are significantly higher for the blue collar worker.
Watching the news coverage this morning, there is something rather unGodly about the fact that this has happened so close to Christmas. Having suffered up to 15 aftershocks all through the night and now dealing with the liquefaction which happens after a quake (when liquid silt bubbles up from underground and floods the streets and houses), it surely must be testing their faith. Not such a Happy Christmas for those poor folk who, as they waded through the grey sludgy mess around the base of their Christmas trees, announced quite simply, in world-weary voices, how they are sick of it.
The financial and economic implications of the situation are of course obvious. It is a city truly in crisis.