‘Now is the winter of our discount tents …’

IMG_0154A sign in a New Zealand outdoor gear shop. From which, if you want to stretttchh, it might be inferred that in New Zealand:

  • they do a very fine line in ‘outdoors’. Beech forest, glaciers, green hills, alpine peaks, braided rivers, volcanoes, etc. Modestly illustrated below.
  • they do a very fine line in outdoor gear. Because of long practice New Zealanders understand weather. As alliterative evidence: Wellington on a wet and windy winter weekend.
  • they, not uncommonly, have a very fine sense of humour. It may be that, like me, all your favourite Australian comedians — John Clarke, Tony Martin, Alan Brough — are Kiwis. Fearless, wry, clever. Add Rhys Darby and the Conchords and you also get innocent, fatalistic, delighting in life’s absurdities without feeling any need to pass judgment, and ignoring even the possibility that Jack might not be as good as his master. For that matter, what’s a master? 
  • they can be well educated.

Australians often think that New Zealand is like an extension of Australia, just across some water. The language, apart from the fascinating and much remarked vowel shift, is the same. You can manage the money with a bit of help. The food and wine are easily recognisable (and often great).

Same. But it isn’t.

Our favourite television show in NZ used to be the sheep dog trials. Why they took them off I’ll never know. Since then we have discovered ‘The Crowd Goes Wild’, and when some meat and drink is offered to it like the rugby world cup it gets jaw-droppingly engaging. It’s sports news, but the teeter-totter of not being quite sure whether the presenters are serious or not provides one of the central attractions of the program.

484125-235347-34Andrew Mulligan (on the left) has a peerless way with pursing of lips. Mark Richardson — 38 tests for the Black Caps (cricket is the game for those elsewhere), test average 43.43, dour left-hand opener — is one of the world’s all time great dags. (Dagg happens to be a not uncommon NZ name.) 

images-1Hayley Holt is a case study in Kiwi multi-dimensionality: champion ballroom dancer, snow board rider, boxer, intelligent. images(The boxing: it’s a pretty standard NZ way of raising money for good causes. Two ‘amateur’ people fight each other. Other people come and watch. That harks back to different roots, and some latent shift in direction. It might be why Sir Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads who once wrenched Aussie opponent Ken Catchpole’s leg so violently that he tore the hamstring off the bone is widely revered as the greatest ever All Black.)

After ten years the Crowd Goes Wild folk ought to be getting a bit tired, but their continued freshness stems from their complete lack of artifice. Not art; artifice. The amiable dag is a familiar figure in sports shows, but this is different. While you get their plain unvarnished selves, what arrives is fearless, startlingly direct and incomprehensibly open, qualities underpinned by a keen sense of irony honed with the whetstone of competitiveness.

And I think that these are distinguishing national characteristics more broadly. An unusual degree of physicality — that crowd in Wellington looks stronger, straighter and fitter than an equivalent crowd in Melbourne — genial openness, inventiveness, adaptability, resilience and just a taste of insensitive hardness. 

I’ve thought along these lines since we climbed Temple Basin near Arthur’s Pass on a visit years ago.
It was a very stiff track, broken rock and drifts of scree as well as being badly rutted with erosion. It might have been two hours before we got to what seemed like a staging point. To get any further was going to be a pain. But right there was a manually-operated tow. After you’d carried your skiing gear up this high, up that track, you could scramble up another several hundred metres and then haul it up after you to ski. That’s an afternoon’s entertainment.images-3

I don’t think it’s an accident that bungee-jumping began in New Zealand. (‘Hey bro I’ve got this wicked idea…’) I’ve seen the scree slope at Avalanche Peak down which you are supposed to run, part of a race (running, climbing, kayaking, bike riding) from one side of the South Island to the other. I guess it’s what you get used to, the impact of your environment, the impact of how other people spend their time in this slice of heaven. That fearlessness … fatalism qualified by indomitability. It’s not nothing.cropped-1-background-macaulay-river-tekapo-3

It might be a product of size: 4.5 million people parked in 268,000 square kilometres (a bit bigger than Britain), 1.4 million of them in Auckland. That means you can get a go at a lot of things, and that you might be expected to: like the undertaker in a small country town who is also the butcher, the post officer and the town clerk. Multiskilled multidimensionality. I had a Scottish friend who described this phenomenon as being a ‘lad o’ pairts’, someone who could, and was willing, to turn their hand to most things. And in NZ that applies to lassies as well lads.

images-4It might be a product of a particular sort of isolation: extra-murally a step further even than Australia from what used to be ‘home’; intra-murally because of the population’s wide distribution in small pockets of settlement. ‘Southern Man’ is the caricature of these attributes, hunters who get choppered into the Southland with a slab of beer and a gun and emerge somewhere near the Cardrona Pub well and cheerful three months later with a range of venison products. The Southland does provide ample opportunity to be isolated. But so do parts of the North Island.

It might be the product of unusual and relatively successful biculturalism. At a session of the NZ Film Festival we went to, two of the six directors introduced their short films speaking Maori: without pretension, embarrassment, show or surprise by either speaker or audience. There’s a lot to say about this including the fact that the Maori and Pasifica sections of the New Zealand population have in recent decades been left behind economically in a way that the Anglo-Celts haven’t. But New Zealand still provides one of the best examples anywhere of indigenous and introduced human species living happily together. While Australia is a big dry unresolved and complex lump, New Zealand is most definitely three Pacific Islands.

These sorts of generalisations have boundaries and might be faintly ridiculous. They are also replete with stereotypes and cliché. However, I never doubt that stereotypes have a foundation, and without cliché we wouldn’t be able to communicate.

Whatever. It’s another world that I particularly enjoy visiting and thinking about.IMG_0223.JPG

•• •• •• ••

The first time we went to New Zealand was because I wanted to look at kauri trees. I had bought a hundred or so lineal metres of unusual 200 x 50 tongue and groove which had been used as flooring in a chook shed. The surfaces were in pretty rocky shape but when I cut into it beautiful golden wood emerged. It was kauri and I had no idea what I had or how precious it was. I only knew how wonderful it was to work.

IMG_0471Kauri (‘bark’ at left, double click for a better look) is a big story. It deserves an entire blog in itself. (If you’re keen, read on here, or better still visit the Kauri Museum at Matakohe. )

The trees look like giant cylindrical vases with a rather unkempt bunch of flowers jammed in their tops. They are squat rather than sky scraping, the Pacific Islanders of the tree world. Paying no respect to how long they take to grow, whole forests were slaughtered and now some of the best kauri comes out of marshland or from under metres of dirt where fallen trunks have been buried. But in the Waipoua Forest in the north of the North Island some remarkable specimens remain.


Animated by Maori lore, this is Tane Mahuta, ‘The Lord of the Forest’. Bigger ones have been measured in the past but at present this is the country’s largest kauri tree, approximately 2,000 years old and still growing, nearly 22 metres to the first branch and 15.4 metres in girth. The human subject was just someone who happened to be there and we got chatting. She fitted like a glove.

•• •• •• ••

IMG_0126Just for context. The grey mouth of the Grey. West coast South Island. Not far from the Pike River coal mine where 36 people died in 2010.

There aren’t that many reasons to visit Greymouth which is one reason why we like it. Like many smallish NZ cities and towns, its art gallery usually has something of considerable interest to offer. But like the rest of the town it was closed on the Sunday afternoon when we last were there. But on the levee along the southern bank is this.IMG_0125

You mightn’t be able to read the plaque. In its completely unadorned and secular way, it says ‘To those who help others’.

The implication of the sou-wester and the gum boots might be ‘at sea’. But I don’t think so, and it doesn’t mean the government either.

You might get that elsewhere, but I think it unlikely.

•• •• •• ••

These photos are about the turn of the New Zealand plane, the extraordinary shadows you get in the late afternoon describing the ridges in these geologically very young mountains and hills. IMG_1951IMG_0140

images I don’t know if I have the colour right in these photos. It’s a deep purple even darker and redder than in Rita Angus’s ‘Cass’, a much loved painting. At left, Rita as she at one time painted herself and, at right, the Cass siding from a less interesting perspective.images-1images-2



•• •• •• ••

IMG_0405I stopped here, parked and got out. Hang the consequences.

It’s some distance along the Forgotten World Highway which runs between Taumaranui and Stratford, west of the North Island and perhaps obviously not much visited. We’d been rebuffed by ice on the Tongariro Crossing and were on our way from Whakapapa to see if Mt Taranaki was going to make itself available for viewing and of course it wasn’t. But to return to the original theme, anywhere where parking is less likely to be a problem is hard to imagine. We may have seen another car in motion during those 150 k.s but I can’t remember one.

The only town of any consequence between one end and the other is Whangamomona, notable for the fact that it has seceded from New Zealand to establish its own republic. An exquisite drive.

•• •• •• ••

IMG_0210We were walking around Dunedin following a self-published walking guide that a resident thought others might enjoy, poking our noses hither and thither. The street was in the guide; the house was not. We were staring up the drive at the garden when the owners came home. They’d just been to church where the sermon had been on welcoming strangers, so we got invited in for a cup of tea and some scones.

I did know their names but have lost them. He turned out to be an academic working at the University of Otago and what was keeping him off the streets at this time was something he and his team had just invented, a ‘fabric’ or material through which it was possible to control the flow of material so that single atoms could be passed through at a given time. That struck me as extraordinary. This apparently has very wide application in some fields such as medicine. How did he come to this idea? By thinking about the fabric of which collapsible canoes (also invented in NZ) were made.

He was at the time in process of negotiating patent and development issues with a German company. If matters worked out as he thought they would $10-15 million, as an initial payment, would pass in the direction of his team. They were lovely people.

•• •• •• ••

IMG_1955This is the real reason for the blog.

Mt Isobel, 1ooom. above some houses at Hanmer Springs, a resort town in the north of the Canterbury Plain, South Island.

The first half included steep zig-zags mostly with a layer of snow over ice. The third quarter was steeper and straighter with some hand climbing and very icy. Semi-controlled bum sliding on the way down. The last quarter was a ridge walk on gravel, scree and snow beds accompanied by a very sharp wind. A steep pitch up to the peak.

We older people made it.IMG_1935





This was the view.IMG_1943

images-2And then a bath in the springs.

We arrived not late but after nightfall. Several hundred people were there, enjoying themselves. Probably a very good date destination. Enough skin but natural and unobtrusive in context, perfectly kosher. You’d just lie there chatting. And then you could, say, go off for a drink.

The air temperature was hovering above and below zero Celsius. The pools ranged from 33-42 degrees. Getting between them was a thrill a minute. But no one seemed to notice.

I must make mention of the bathers dryer in the changing rooms, which I think Australians would either ignore or treat with suspicion. Modelled on a spin dryer, you put your togs in, hold the lid down for 5-8 seconds and then lift them out dry. It’s free. Such a good idea — daggy and wonderful at the same time, so practical — and very popular. New Zealand-ish or what? 

•• •• •• ••

IMG_1989The full name of Te Papa, ‘Our Place’, is Te Papa Tongarewa ‘Where we keep our treasures’.

In the blog on earthquakes I mentioned that the Christchurch art gallery was going to have base isolators installed. Wellington, where Te Papa is located, is just as subject to earthquakes as Christchurch. The treasures are protected by this entire building resting on base isolators, a New Zealand invention. They look like this.IMG_1990

A big block of rubber with cylinders of lead inserted in them. The rubber accommodates lateral movement and shaking; the lead helps to absorb motion and heat energy. How smart is that!

The treasure includes one floor of art and it’s not nearly adequate for what could be on display. This might be the lowest ratio of ‘shown’ to ‘stored’ pieces of any respectable national gallery. But what was there on our last visit was great. We particularly liked this.


It’s called ‘Dromorne Rd – Putiki Street’. What do you think? Marble? Terrazzo?

The tag says: ‘Andrew Barber created this work from the drop sheets he used in his 12-year career as a house painter. The squares were stitched together by sail-makers on industrial machines.’ Dromorne Rd was where he did his first painting job.

Does that change how you feel about it?

Or how you feel about a country that devotes a major exhibition space in its precious national gallery to its display?

•• •• •• ••

Without pretension. Without artifice. What’s a master?IMG_0485.JPGFar north in Northland, North Island. But it could be anywhere.


Christchurch and its earthquakes

IMG_1885Christchurch. Third biggest city in New Zealand, just smaller than Wellington the capital. For those inclined towards using Geelong as a yard stick, and there are so many of us — twice as big. Capital itself of Canterbury the fertile plain where the lamb which fed Britain before its entry to the Common Market was raised. Dairy prices remain an important bellwether of community well being. IMG_1951Comfortable, dull, provincial, secure: the sort of place where you find an unusual number of private schools servicing the children of pastoralists and people clinging to traditions from elsewhere.

Chch has been described as the most English city outside England, and certainly at the opera we were surrounded by accents that began well back in the British throat. Salisbury, Gloucester, Worcester, Durham, Manchester and Hereford are street names in the central block. Ireland is represented by Armagh, Bangor, Tuam and Cashel; Wales by St Asaph; and the Empire, presumably, by Colombo, Montreal, Barbadoes (sic), Madras and Antigua. Hagley Park, 170 rather glorious hectares in the centre of the city could, by its plantings, style and usage, be Regent’s Park on the other side of the world.

83251448The architecture which provides the city with some of its more definable character is a localised version of Gothic using grey basalt highlighted with white trim. The Provincial Chambers and the old Canterbury University buildings which became an art centre are fine examples, although the jewel in the crown? The Anglican cathedral standing to attention at the side of the city square.ChristchurchCathedralTrams trundle round its heart, although on just one line and really only for tourists.

Tram at Christchurch Arts Centre, New Zealand

IMG_1905The Avon rises within the city  — at Avonhead: that’s Chch, prosaic but clear — a good deal less than a river but more than a trickle requiring eight bridges in the CBD alone. It ambles its way through the suburbs to the sea 10 k.s away as the brown trout swims.

One of Chch’s tourist offerings is to take to it by punt.

The Avon and the Heathcote, Chch’s other waterway, drain marshland depositing silt in the shallow estuary at their mouths.

IMG_1878A prosperous regional centre requires a deep water port and fortunately one exists 15 k.s south-east in the core of a volcanic crater. However the steep and rather intransigent Port Hills (the crater’s rim, from which the first photo above was taken and visible at right) separate the city from the port and its town, Lyttelton. A rail tunnel joined the two in 1867 but it wasn’t until 1964 that road traffic could avoid steep and winding climbs to get between Lyttelton and Chch. The road tunnel is 2 k.s long, bullet straight except for two wafty curves at beginning and end.

It wouldn’t do to talk Chch down. This is the home of the Crusaders. Played finals in 16 of 20 years of SuperRugby, winning the lot seven times. To the antipodean mind SuperRugby is the club world championship. The Crusaders offer big names, huge names: Dan Carter, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Kieren Reid aaaaannd Richie McCaw. International Player of the Year three times and now suiting up for his ninth consecutive year as captain of the All Blacks who have won 120 0f 136 international games in that time. He played the final of the last world cup with two stress fractures and a displaced screw in his right foot. ABs 8 France 7. If you think this doesn’t matter you haven’t been to New Zealand.
images-1 Richie and some of his closer friends.

imagesChch also has a very fine art gallery which opened in 2003. It was designed to cope with earthquakes, being built on a concrete raft intended to evenly distribute seismic mutterings.

We’ve been there and loved it,IMG_0195

and we have also found the groovy part of town down High Street south east from the city: vodka bars, good coffee, nice places to sit, interesting passing parade, amateur art and a shop where I bought my all time favourite shirt owned by a former All Black who had headed off into the rag trade. You’ll know the spot. Near the corgis.IMG_1835IMG_0201


And then you look up, and just behind where Gill is sitting, instead of a very nice place to have breakfast, there’s this…IMG_1829

•• •• •• ••

Signed ‘Fred Tunnecliffe, 2010’ and found in Freeman’s Restaurant, Lyttelton.

On 4 September 2010 4.35am a network of faults slid and yawned producing three major earthquakes almost simultaneously. Felt throughout New Zealand, the epicentre was 11 k.s under Charing Cross 40 k.s west of Chch. It was measured as being magnitude 7.1, equivalent to detonating more than five million tonnes of TNT. (For comparison the combined explosive force of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs was equivalent to the detonation of 33,000 tonnes of TNT.) This quake lasted 40 seconds — time it, add the noise and the very bizarre physical sensations, and tremble — and caused extensive damage to infrastructure. Power, sewerage and water supply were all seriously damaged. Many stone buildings heaved and cracked. 1,200 repairs to roads and traffic infrastructure were required mainly in the northern suburbs although following a diagonal line north-east south-west. Two people were injured, another died of a heart attack during the quake but it is not possible to assign it as the cause. Minor damage was reported from towns 400 k.s away. Subsequently four metres of sideways movement was measured between the two sides of this previously unknown fault.

nasa_largeNew Zealanders are used to earthquakes. These after all are the ‘shakey isles’. The Southern Alps which form the spine of the South Island are one of the most visible and active examples of plate tectonics in the world. If you place a ruler on the snow line of the western side of this picture you will have discovered the Alpine Fault which has ruptured dramatically four times in the last 900 years, most recently in 1717. It is here that the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates meet and try to climb over each other. Intriguingly, the two islands are predominantly on different tectonic plates. 

Since 2010 there have been 27 quakes measured at 5.3 or (generally) higher, big quakes, in the country as a whole. In Christchurch itself the spire has been shaken off the cathedral several times in the last 100 years. A month after it was built in 1881 a tremor dislodged several blocks of ashlar from near the apex. Seven years later eight metres of the spire came down. But 2010 was a brutal example. 

Despite long term interest and intensive study, this fault had not appeared on the seismological maps. It was hidden under gravels and greywacke. Chch is under the cloud on the right of the photo, not obviously near the major faultline. But once this one was uncovered, a whole network of faults ‘all pointing at Christchurch’ became evident. Residents were warned of the likelihood of aftershocks and expected them. (Since then there have been more than 12,000. Twelve thousand.) However by Christmas most of the damage had been sorted out, the city was working, and much of the emotional bleeding had been staunched.

So when on 22 February 2011, a shake began at lunchtime, 12.51pm, it could have been an aftershock. But it wasn’t. Although measured in one way at 6.3, in terms of intensity and impact (on the alternative Mercalli scale) it became the strongest shock ever recorded in an urban area. It was shallow (under the Port Hills). What was breaking was very strong geologically, releasing even more energy. The shock waves didn’t bounce around but moved in the same direction actually gathering strength. And in a development which had not been seen before, the top layers of ground under the city were flipped off those which were deeper like an unsynchronised bounce on a trampoline, the shock of resettling intensifying the impact. Thirteen minutes later there was an aftershock of 5.8; less than two hours later one of 5.9. For an hour the ground barely stopped shaking. During that time the Port Hills in places became 40cm higher.

Ninety percent of the 600 or so CBD buildings were destroyed or rendered unusable. 12,000 properties registered damage exceeding $100,000. The tremors cracked and brought down masonry buildings, brittle regardless of their footings. IMG_1825185 people died, the majority of them in two office buildings which folded into themselves like layers of pancake. Millefeuille. One memorial, 185 empty chairs, is at right.

The earlier quake had generated 1,200 road repair sites. This one had created 38,000 if you could be bothered counting. You could just say whole areas like the northern suburbs and the region that lies between the city and the coast were stuffed: Dallington, Bromley, Bexley, Brighton, Sumner, Woolston, Mt Pleasant. Because while the tremors destroyed buildings via shaking, they were also creative.

708541Some of the most memorable photos are of the consequences of liquefaction, apparently firm soil being shaken so that it becomes a tide of silty sand with characteristics of liquid. Whole houses sunk metres into this material. The Avon became a grey trough in hundreds of hectares of ‘flood’.

The earthquake-proof Art Gallery which survived the shaking and was used as a command centre during the early stages of the aftermath, was discovered to be sitting on liquified soil. The whole thing had tilted and become unstable. It has been jacked up (much of the engineering in action in Chch is astonishing) and it will be put on base isolators, but it is still out of commission. 322,000 tonnes of liquefaction silt have been removed. As a result of this experience substantial sections of the city may be declared out of bounds for building. Just think of the legal and financial ramifications of that.

Nearer the hills there were massive landslips. One chased down the steep hill immediately behind Redcliffs School threatening the infants’ block. A teacher at the school describes being bounced up and down, ‘a foot or more’, as she tried to stand in a doorway hanging onto the door posts eventually leaving deep finger nail marks in the wood, but powerless to get to her students to help them. Fortunately the children all escaped harm.

Stray boulders wreaked their own damage.315116-christchurch-lyttleton-earthquake One which had followed a trajectory like this was named ‘Rocky’ and sold on eBay for $60,000, a contribution to the recovery fund. So very New Zealand-ish.

IMG_1863Ballantyne’s department store (below) was one of the few CBD buildings to survive the quake and despite still being surrounded by space and remnant devastation it’s a going concern. Sometime after the quake while they were trying to retrieve some semblance of order in the shop, the manager provided free buses fitted out with champagne to take customers on day trips to the Ballantyne’s in Timaru 165k.s away.

And that’s the sort of thing that makes New Zealand one of the world’s great countries: make-do, can-do, will-do all at once, with a bit of good humour tossed in — all the qualities you need to live at the end of the earth. While the wooden roof trusses over the Wharenui pool were flexing 30 or 40 cms, the kids in the pool had to be forcibly persuaded to leave because they were enjoying the waves slopping over the sides so much.

•• •• •• ••

So in the hard flat winter light of 42 degrees south what does Chch look like now four and half years later?

It looks like shipping containers and chain link fencing. The containers play a role in propping up bits of heritage or serving as a basis for ‘Re-start’ the shopping centre on the edge of what was the CBD.

IMG_1831IMG_1887IMG_1844It looks like a demolition site.IMG_1912
IMG_1819You look at a building and think, ah good fortune. That one got away. And then you look a bit closer and there’s windows missing, there’s bracing along one or more walls, the signage is broken and some of the kilometres of chainlink fence that is still everywhere in the city is keeping you away from ground level nearby. Despite not being wrapped in plastic like most of them are, it’s waiting for demolition. This also applies if in a more complex way to heritage buildings. The cathedral will not be saved in anything like recognisable form but the old Arts Centre might be.IMG_1856







It looks like a construction site.


If you want a job and know anything about construction, I would consider relocating to Chch. I think I read in the paper that 4000 skilled and semi-skilled Filipino workers had been brought in to work on repairs and new projects. Certainly wherever you look, in the city, in the suburbs, out of town, building is in train. But decades of work remain. I suppose until the money runs out. The Wallabies won’t be playing in Chch again until a new stadium is built. For that $500m. is required.


It’s also a place to see remarkable engineering. Look at the steel in this pier (at left). The rod is as thick as your arm. And, as it happens, that might be one of the Filipino workers.

IMG_1865This is a bit hard to see but instead of adhering to standard contemporary versions of post and lintel construction using heavy materials like reinforced concrete these buildings are being built on steel frames, webbed or holed for lightness, designed to flex laterally to absorb shaking motions. It’s all so clever. Clever, but slow.

It looks like street art.


Above is the back of our ostensible destination, the Isaac Theatre Royal reopened, a real quality restoration job, for a performance of Madama Butterfly, the first return of opera to Chch.IMG_1824










It looks like some places got off lightly. As Myrna said of the Victorian terraces of New Regent St, a street surrounded by air, they seem to be pretending that nothing has happened.IMG_1820IMG_1838And one of your very best coffee shops somehow survived largely unscathed. The management takes splendid potshots at the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery. As it happens the cafe is next to the corgis and as well as in very funny print, its sentiments are expressed on the seat Gill was sitting on.IMG_1908•• •• •• ••

How could the reconstruction have been uncontroversial? 
The recovery effort required was and is massive, both in the initial emergency but also afterwards. ‘The earthquakes’, says The Press, Christchurch’s major newspaper, ‘released a surge of community feeling and creative optimism. Christchurch was going to rebuild itself as a liveable, sustainable, adventurous, 21st century city.’

And that hasn’t happened. Yet at least. For a time united by the tragedy and its scale, the City Council and the national government have more recently been at loggerheads. Inevitably. Restoration has been slow. Insurers haven’t been as forthcoming as they might. Legal wrangling over complex property arrangements has slowed things down, along with what is claimed, as always, to be excessive bureaucratic oversight and interference. Heritage issues emerge regularly.

And no one has forgotten. In the first edition of The Press I read on this visit there were earthquake stories on 7 of the first 10 pages. Everyone we spoke to had a story. Of course they would have. 

But what has happened in those four and half years is that the locus of the city has shifted. The shopping action is in Riccarton, a suburb in the west which was considerably less affected than than the centre or the east. South of the city between Brougham St and Moorhouse Avenue now looks like the entry strip to a minor American state capital: tilt block, garish, fast food, fast furniture, fast tiles and hardware, fast garden stuff and fast anything else you might want to buy. It’s not so English any more. 

IMG_2006There’s a message here about good intentions and rational process. When you’re trying to normalise your life, the sustainable, adventurous, 21st century city will be made to wait. It will get trampled in the rush to stop the wall wobbling, to get water coming through the pipes, and to be able to buy a pizza more or less at will. But I hope something more is left of these splendid aspirations than a whopping big new convention centre. 

And this might just be me, but I would try to steer clear of Innovative Premises in the Innovation Precinct. That’s not New Zealand-ish. Not remotely.

Meanwhile … recovery, from what? A slip in the Alpine Fault may be close to due. Last time it produced a lateral movement of 8 metres combined with a vertical motion of two metres. This would dwarf the scale of anything that happened in 2011 and make a dreadful mess of probably all the scattered settlement on the west coast. The Hope Fault which runs not far north of Christchurch through Kaikoura shifts on average every 140 years. The last occurrence was in 1888. That’s the quake that shook the top off the spire.

So the other message has to be about our idea of permanence and its complement, the tractability of nature. As Joe Bennett writes in the preface to The Press‘s excellent book on the subject, ‘The quake brought Christchurch face to face with a harsh and simple truth: we live on the cooling crust of a molten planet and it is utterly indifferent to our well being. We are, in short, like ticks on a rhino.’

And that view, my friends, can be relied on. Solid as rock.IMG_1839

•• •• •• ••

And now for something more cheerful, a short love letter to NZ.