Dave and I were having dinner on Sunday night a week ago, when I realised we hadn’t told anyone we would be staying in Napier for the night. That’s not really such a big deal because we don’t actually “check in” with family & friends on a daily basis but we had said we’d be in Taupo, though changed our minds. Anyway, I posted our location on Facebook “just in case” of an earthquake in the area.
I was feeling a bit unnerved because I’d been reading about a massive earthquake in 1931, in which 258 people were killed and the majority of Napier and parts of Hastings wiped out. Straight after the earthquake a fire in a chemist shop quickly spread through the town and where a building survived the quake then the fire surely finished it off.
During the night I was aware of our phones buzzing with messages. So in the morning when we opened our devices we started seeing messages and Facebook contacts checking that we were ok. Then followed the slow realisation of a shocking 7.8 earthquake in the South Island around midnight, centering around the Kaikoura region.
Dave says he felt 3 big jolts in the night but didn’t get up to investigate (I slept blissfully through). In the morning the motel manager told us that he also felt shocks and then stayed up for the rest of the night in case of further quakes and keeping watch on tsunami alerts. I guess it would have been his job to evacuate all his guests, if it came to that. It turned out there was a tsunami warning along that part of the coast of the North Island, but it was soon downgraded.
Kaikoura is a lovely little seaside town, famous for getting up close to whales and seals, attracting thousands of tourists from all over the world.
Last year when we were house sitting and traveling around the South Island people said to us oh, you must go to Kaikoura!
We’re good at taking travel advice and so we drove along the most magnificent coastline to stay in Kaikoura, which we found out to be one of those special places in the world. This is where the snow-capped southern Alps meet the rugged coastline of the Pacific ocean with some of New Zealand’s most striking landscape.
Following last week’s earthquake, extensive land slips, road damage and cut rail lines meant that there was no way by land to get in or out of Kaikoura. The place was completely cut off, more than 600 residents and 1,200 tourists were stranded without power, water or sewerage. Making matters more stressful for some was the inability to contact family & friends outside of the town, as all telecommunications were also out. We can really identify with that one.
What we saw happening over the following days seemed phenomenal, Local Maori at Takahanga Marae opened its doors on the day of the quake and provided hot meals and shelter to Kaikoura residents and tourists. Crayfish is a local specialty and there was plenty for all.
A local fisherman turned up with 16,000 litres of water in his boat. A Nelson man organised the delivery of 400 pieces of KFC chicken, 400 McDonald’s burgers, 50 Domino’s pizzas. Not sure how that all happened but an amazing feat. There were also soccer balls brought in to keep people amused.
So many stories about community effort to keep family, neighbours and visitors comfortably sustained and in good spirits.
Many still have limited power and water and some have gone a week without showering. Thankfully, communal showers are on their way. Shared port-a-loos have now been replaced with a chemical toilet for each home and business, great relief for many!
Massive efforts by the NZ Navy and Air Force finally evacuated tourists and brought food & water in. Support from international defense agencies turned up to help, including a US war ship visiting Auckland at the time.
This quake will be a major blow to tourism in Kaikoura especially with Summer so close. The Kiwis that come every year for their summer holidays will probably still come, though there is concern about whether international tourists will be frightened off through fear of further earthquakes or that the sea life won’t be around.
Well, the good news today was that whales have been spotted off the coast and the seal colonies are regrouping. And the inland access road has now been opened to restricted vehicles, so there is some relief to locals.
We humans perform so well under pressure!
The earthquake has changed, not destroyed, this unique and beautiful region and the visitors really need to keep coming so the town can support its community.
Of course there are many many human stories around the earthquake and the recovery.
I feel immensely proud of Kiwis, I love this country and its people.