Hi all! We have been so happily busy here that I have a lot to say, but that also means I have tons of pictures and videos to share of this beautiful country. I am glad we have back in Kansas City such an amazing community, two supportive families and a wonderful church, otherwise you might be in danger of losing me to New Zealand. I’m sitting inside a cafe presently enjoying a “cuppa” of Earl Grey and wrapped up in a sweater because, well, it’s chilly here in the mornings (between 35 – 50 F) and since the houses aren’t insulated as well as ours, don’t have central heat, and the buildings aren’t a whole lot better, you just get used to layering properly in the fall and winter. They just make do with space heaters and good blankets, and since it doesn’t get below freezing, you learn to adapt. Today is supposed to be pretty and 65F later, so we’ll be taking the dogs out to a forest trail we found earlier this week.
To those wondering, we’re still in Christchurch, but we moved to a house a week and a half ago where we are dog sitting for two really sweet Jack Russell terriers. They are brother and sister, and have been well trained so taking care of them is a breeze and a lot of fun. We’ll be here til the end of April.
That’s been our lives lately – hike a few times a week (or whenever the weather allows), follow our tasks faithfully here, and just enjoy the culture and people. For Matt, his daily routine is to wake up at 6 am, stumble over to his computer and start working since it’s already 1 pm back home and he wants to overlap business hours. I’ll wake up an hour later and make breakfast, feed the dogs, spend some time reading and journaling, and usually get out to explore the city or hike by myself. I’ll come back and make lunch, he’ll finish up around 2 pm, we’ll get out together for a while with or without the dogs, and I’ll make dinner in the evenings, do chores and we’ll walk the dogs together. Cooking three times a day has been really rewarding, more than I thought it would be. Maybe it’s just having access to an oven but I’ve been baking a lot of bread, which may counteract all the hiking we’ve been doing.
We’ve found a small church here that makes us feel right at home. We met a couple upon first walking in, and within the week we were plugged into a small group, hosting double dates, and going on lunch outings with groups. Everyone in the group is in a similar stage of life as us, and are a mix of Kiwis and Americans. They’re incredibly hospitable and made us feel like a part of their family. It’s given us something to look forward to a few times a week. Karla is a girl from California who came out to NZ to live near her Kiwi boyfriend, Aaron, who is an architectural engineer for a firm here in Christchurch. She took me to a local farmer’s market with some really fun stalls.
They invited us to a rugby match on Friday, and Matt gets free entrance for helping during half time. I have no idea what that means and neither of us really understand the rules (except that it’s like full contact football without helmets or padding) but we’re excited!
A girl in our group had recommended going to the Canterbury Museum here in Christchurch, an excellent free museum that highlights the history and culture of the Canterbury region (where we’re living presently). It has an exhibit detailing the expeditions taken by New Zealanders to the Antarctic. Turns out most US expeditions headed there leave out of nearby Lyttleton Harbour. Plus you can learn about all the penguins that live or flock to the South Island New Zealand during different parts of the year. I’m hoping we can meet some on our road trip next month.
New Zealand wasn’t settled by humans until about 900 years ago, and since there were no natural predators prior to this, you have a lot of flightless birds that were curious and unafraid of the incoming humans. Sadly, the moa who are like large ostriches without wings, did not make it since the Polynesian settlers hunted their population into extinction within a few hundred years.
We were on a hike the other day and a little bird, in the middle of a completely remote forest that probably rarely encounters humans, was perfectly happy to fly around us and approach us several times. If there are no larger animals that might attack it, why should it be afraid? It was really comical.
The Canterbury Museum is situated just next to the beautiful Botanical Gardens which puts Loose Park in Kansas City to shame in both scale and beauty. The lovely Avon River flows through it.
I commented to our AirBnB hosts when we first arrived that it appeared the Avon was in flood stage, and they said simply, “No – the river bed just raised several feet during the last earthquake”. Oh. See, there’s really no part of life that hasn’t been affected here by the many earthquakes that have rocked the city in the last 5 years. The two most notable ones were a 7.1 in September 2010 on previous unknown faults, and the much more disastrous 6.3 (actually an aftershock) in February 2011. Turns out earthquakes aren’t just measured by the Richter scale but also by the Mercalli Scale, which indicates the intensity of the shaking. No one died in the first major earthquake but 185 people were killed as a result of the second, since the second one was very shallow, much more intense, and many buildings had already been weakened by the first quake. You still see the effects today.
No route you take is devoid of road construction, as 52% of Christchurch’s urban sealed roads had to be resealed (632 miles), and everything had to be done in stages.
Regardless of structural damage, most locals experienced the pain of dealing with liquefaction, where silt literally bubbled up through the group and made a swamp of their yards. It’s what happens when the underlying soil mixes with water, loses its strength and starts to behave like a liquid, not unlike quicksand. People arrived home to find their dogs stuck in it.
Many houses and buildings were deemed unsafe to re-enter in the red zones due to structural issues, and were scheduled for demolition. Some of that work continues now, and you’ll find many public parking lots downtown are gravel lots that used to contain a building.
Even without knowing what their downtown looked like prior to this, it’s obvious that things are missing as you walk around.
There are stacked shipping containers holding up sheer rock faces and old stone walls.
But it’s amazing, because you’d think that with all that, people would flee to the suburbs and never look back. While things have changed, and people who once lived downtown had to move outside and commute in due to the fact that their house was beyond repair, there isn’t the kind of blight that might happen if this were in a city like Detroit. The city rallied together, helped one another, voted for progress, and filled the empty spaces with beautiful art, simple memorials and spaces to attract tourists, and even creative uses of empty space like stores and coffee shops in shipping containers. If you walk around downtown, there are trolleys, cafes, funny and insightful graffiti art pieces, and trendy cocktail bars.
I just read in a local newspaper that 95% of Cantabrians, the locals, still see the roadworks projects as progress and 90% of them don’t mind it, even 5 years later. It’s amazing! The thing they seem the most excited about is the new library going in. People still talk about the earthquake, and a day doesn’t seem to go by that we don’t hear about it, but they could be discouraged considering that there’s several major aftershocks every year. It’d be enough to rattle anyone’s nerves. And yet the general feel seems to be excitement about the future, and care to preserve the past. They have some really lovely buildings here that are modeled off of cities in England, and there’s loving restoration happening to ensure those are functional, get restructured to sustain future earthquakes better, and still be faithful to the original design. I learned a lot about the earthquakes in a really great museum here called Quake City, that tells the stories of the earthquakes, the rebuilding process, and documents several people’s stories in several very good documentaries that you can watch there. I highly recommend visiting it if you come here. There’s also a fantastic book called Quake Dogs, that documents many dogs around the area, both used in rescue operations and those who were unfortunate enough to experience the earthquakes and subsequent aftershocks. Many dealt with major anxiety and stress since dogs can sense the earthquakes much better than humans. It’s touching, made me cry a bit, and worth a read.
I didn’t know where to fit this but it’s so random and fun that I had to include it.
Categories: New Zealand