45 degrees South, 2022

It’s probably the Waimakariri. I was too tired to know. But it is certainly New Zealand. You don’t get braided rivers like that just anywhere, especially with snow-capped mountains in the near background. There was water everywhere as we landed. Canterbury had had a foot of rain in the preceding week, a genuine wet week. It was winter and we were being international for the purposes I would say primarily of eating, sleeping and looking out the window. And seeing Rhys Darby at Christchurch’s Isaac Theatre Royal.

We had been on the theatre’s mailing list since we attended the re-opening night seven years ago after the earthquakes. Rhys Darby (at left) was going to have a concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of his stand-up comedy and while that won’t mean a thing to most people it meant enough to us to test attendance as an idea. (Flight of the Conchords? Jermaine and Brett? New Zealand takes New York? No? ah well. Rhys was Murray the band manager: ‘Now I’m going to take the roll. Brett?’ Every time he appeared the show got funnier.) His brand of humour involves his entire being while somehow remaining entirely deadpan in a very New Zealand-ish way. And yes, improbably, we went. I only loved it; he reduced Myrna to weeping mush.

The night before we had been to see Top Gun: Maverick (It was a holiday, okay? And we really wanted to have a choc top. Really. Mate, New Zealand choc tops … We drove around most of Sydenham, a southern Christchurch suburb, to find an ATM so we could accomplish the transaction. Foreign cards, in this instance, were worthless muck.) Anything more antithetical would be hard to imagine. An ageing Tom Cruise conquering some unnamed wicked country by bumping fists with young American athletes majoring in aggression and world domination, fighting off the baddies with CGI (ah yes, pardon, computer-generated imagery), a miracle of technology so removed from humankind it is hard to fathom let alone explain. Rhys just stood on the stage and said and did funny things ending the evening with his kids running around the front of the theatre distributing what we’d call thongs so they could be clapped along to his song ‘Jandals’. Not necessarily his best work, but anything more delightfully human would be hard to imagine.

However this blog is mainly just an excuse for photos, memorabilia. And to indicate that going to New Zealand for a holiday is a very desirable thing to do. I’ve made this case elsewhere, here and here and here.

We arrived in Christchurch. It is still in recovery. It is unlikely to ever be the same as it was before the giant earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 which killed 185 people and shook its centre, including its cathedral which used to dominate the city square, to bits. It is a moot point whether hundreds of millions of dollars should be spent restoring this building. Do you justify it, as a Kiwi friend did, by referring to its iconic historical status or, as her husband suggested, do you put your money instead into rebuilding the stadium, home of the Crusaders, the greatest rugby club on earth? The cathedral remnant is still not secure enough to enter to determine precisely what needs to be done. The good-looking facade is a banner. I thought Wow! Naylor Love! sponsoring the rebuild of the front wall and window, go for it you civic-minded creatures you. But in fact they’ve just sponsored the banner.

Another fake, the wall of the Riverside market, one of three pockets of the city which remain bopping. It’s flat. Yes. Flat. A single surface. But nicely done. There’s still plenty of street art.

And the Gallery is back in business. Four offerings.

The light fittings: 60s kitchen chairs with neon tubes through them. Why not?

We visited at a changeover, so the exhibition offerings were modest. Modest, but most engaging with a strong emphasis on Victoriana. Here she is herself for example.

William Nicholson, ‘H.M. The Queen’ (1899), a lithograph derived from a woodcut, and isn’t that just marvellous. Sort of perfect in a way. A huge version of this is the major decorative feature of the external walls of Christchurch’s casino. New Zealand. They do that sort of thing over there.

The exhibition I enjoyed most was called ‘Leaving for Work’, perhaps 40 pieces again often early 20th century about people at work. ‘Threshing’ (below), a woodcut print by Clare Leighton (1933), caught my eye along with its companion ‘Apple Picking’. She has found some wonderful blacks along with extremely inventive hatching. And look at that smoke coming out of the steam engine. Somewhere near here is one of the places that craft truly meets art.

Elsewhere George Dunlop Leslie’s, In the Wizard’s Garden, about 1904. The wall notes say, ‘Because the painting puzzled viewers Leslie was asked for an explanation of its meaning.’ Well, I’ve got news for the viewers: I think I know. But, elegantly obfuscating in the prescribed Victorian manner, Leslie describes the painting as being about a young medieval noblewoman who had sought an alchemist or wizard’s guidance to discover the secrets of the future. For more distracting camouflage he throws in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story ‘Rappacini’s Daughter’ in which case, unhappily, the garden would be entirely filled with poisonous plants. Okay. Menace. (Just nod knowingly. Thank you.)

For ourselves, concerns focused on the scones. In fact the heritage diet of New Zealanders may be under some threat.

The food cabinets are full of the products of wild and fertile imaginings — some of these dishes are even vegetarian — but the cheese scone, as perfected widely in the past, is endangered. We were concerned about its extinction until we found what we were looking for and much else, including a sausage roll which actually was a sausage wrapped in a pastry roll — how good is that, how express and admirable in fact, Shakespearean — in the Union Company Cafe, Port Chalmers. Worth a journey.

There’s some large scale new building, a lot of civic infrastructure including Te Pae, a giant conference centre which looms with its exterior collection of Canterbury greys and gigantic video screens illuminating its walls. And yes a giant squid. A whale swims past from time to time. You may make of that what you wish.

But there are still a lot of teeth missing from the jaw. Car parks — ubiquitous, endless — fill places where you feel buildings should be (and make you wonder where the hell all those cars come from … and why).

So we went looking for something other than the built environment.

Christchurch is not a maritime city but its eastern edge runs into the South Pacific looking here from the New Brighton Pier very pacific indeed. Christchurch’s port, its crucial port both for receiving goods and more especially for dispatching the riches of the Canterbury Plain to the world, is 10 or 12 kilometres away at Lyttleton in a fractured volcanic crater.

Separating the city and Lyttleton are the Port Hills, the crater rim, just fine for a walk. On this Saturday morning it was a sharply cold day with drifts of rain and some fierce wind up high, but we were there with dozens, scores, hundreds of locals mooching walking running riding not really noticing the weather. New Zealand.

We cheated by going up some of the way in the gondola before launching out down through Major Hornbrook’s Saddle and up to the peak, Mt Pleasant.

The Avon and Heathcote, often only masquerading as creeks, drain the mudflats of Christchurch into the estuary as seen in the pic on the right. They were both running hard and the visible surface water was much more extensive than it looks here.

When there’s a dance class on, doesn’t matter where you are, you’ve just got to do it. Mercifully the internet wasn’t good enough to sustain a whole hour out on the blasted heath. Praise the Lord. We were able to move on to the summit, near which were these lichen-encrusted trees, followed by a muddy but interesting descent down to Lyttleton via the Major Hornbrook Track.

We got to Lyttleton in the mid-afternoon and both hungry and not confident about finding anything to eat in a tiny town at that hour on a Saturday afternoon. But lo and behold we found a most conscientious and capable Japanese chef, him and his wife really, who provided for us.

The okonomiyaki was a bit sludgey — by rights it should be kept cooking at the table — but everything else was delicious.

• • • • • • •

The first night we were there there had been a big dump of snow down to 400m and as we drove 400km south to Dunedin there it all was. We stopped for a break at Oamaru, in its central part a reliquary of some time ago, a 100 years perhaps, and felt the need for an ice cream from a trailer van. They looked good and the ageing couple weren’t getting much business. That’ll surprise you. They caught our accent and wanted to sympathise with us about our recent change of government before running through Jacinda’s perfidies along with the evils of vaccination and lockdown. That van could well have been recently providing treats to those laying siege to the Beehive (the building housing NZs parliament). It takes all types. The ice creams were excellent.

Dunedin is the capital of the Otago region and in the past a home away from home for Scots. (Edinborough = ‘Edin town’ in Old English; Dunedin = ‘Edin town’ in Gaelic.) It is famous for its hills and, in Baldwin Street, has the steepest road in the world, 1: 2.86, officially certified by Guinness Records. A town in Wales laid claim to this title in 2019 but Dunedin courageously fought back. The decision to reinstate the previous record holder was reached in 2020 following the completion of an extensive review of an appeal brought by representatives of Baldwin Street. The appeal included a comparative survey of the three-dimensional shapes of the Dunedin street and Ffordd Pen Llech. The findings revealed that in order to fairly assess the different shape of the streets, whether they’re straight or curved, steepness must be measured by the central axis (the centre line of the road). Certainly that would have been the way I would see it. Regardless, it’s steep all over the place.

It is also a university town (see immediately above: who else would?) with excellent cafes and coffee and funky clothes shops. The University of Otago comes in very high on world rankings and looks like it would be great fun to attend. The day after we arrived it was Open Day and the town was swarming with late adolescents and their parents.

This is the view from what might be the best room in town, the top floor suite of the 97 Moray Motel, Room 409, looking out over The Octagon, the nominal centre of the city. The square is furnished with a statue of Robbie Burns (described on investigation as an ‘eroto-maniac’. Why Scots put up statues to him — there’s another one in Ballarat for example — is beyond me), and a bus depot. St Paul’s Cathedral, an Anglican church, and the Forsyth Barr office block dominate. We wondered if the office block had just been erected. We couldn’t remember it. And, in which case, just who had paid whom and how much? But our mate at reception said that it had been there for ages; it was just that the exterior had recently been renovated. Hence the spotty styling, the lift block and the new top storey which offered some groovy lighting effects.

Robbie’s down there somewhere over the top of the white car.

Dunedin is the sort of place where amateurs publish ideas for city walks. (See also above.) We chose to follow the excellent and well-researched advice of Antony Hamel, barrister. Some of the advice anyway; his guide offers 20 walks. ‘Grand Homes of Dunedin’ takes you up (and up and up) to Royal Terrace just below the ‘Town Belt’. (The original instructions to the New Zealand Company’s Scottish surveyor included: ‘It is indeed desirable that the whole outside of the Town, inland, should be separated from the country by a broad belt of land which you will declare that the Company intends to be public property on condition that no buildings be ever erected upon it.’ ) You walk through the Town Belt which, even if the city has crept over the other side of it, is still 10 or more kilometres long and is still a lovely thing flourishing with several dozen different types of noisy birds. Then on to Jubilee Park and back down High Street to the Octagon.

Some samples. These two in Royal Terrace were owned by the same family (Hudson’s chocolate and biscuit manufacturers), the second now being a Buddhist Centre.

Near them is Ulveston, probably the party piece. Built for a family of four, it was subsequently vested to a somewhat nervous City of Dunedin (upkeep costs). It is now open to the public at regular specified times.

And it has a rather lovely greenhouse.

Just around the corner is the Ritchie House which has recently been bought for a very large sum of money by St Hilda’s, a nearby private secondary school for girls with the customary surfeit of funds.

On the corner in the background above is this one, a more sober affair but interesting in its own 1920s way.

… with this view across the city and the end of the harbour to Vauxhall.

Just below Jubilee Park. This wasn’t on the list but I liked it. You could talk about the San Francisco influence, or perhaps the Dunedin influence on San Francisco, or perhaps how you build houses in steep places where there isn’t much suitable stone but plenty of timber (and, in its time, gold).

• • • • • • •

Dunedin is at the end of a long bay, Otago Harbour, with the Peninsula famous for its sea life on its southern side.

We visited the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head and this was something. Four chicks had decided to do their eight months of pre-flight maturation within 15 or so metres of the viewing station, a pill box with a glass slit. (A not very old fort with the ‘Invisible Gun’ which can be raised and lowered is close at hand.) And there they are, these fat things with legs that can only just support their 12 kilo weight.

This one was stumbling around flapping its wings rehearsing flight.

Taiaroa Head is one home for about 5 percent of all the albatrosses in the world. They mate here, commonly for life, and produce one egg which is nurtured by both parents taking turns to go fishing for chick feed. The chick’s first flight, which for the one above might be 3-4 weeks away, is to Chile 10,000 kms away. Their first flight! which takes them 10-15 days! They are able to lock the tendons in their wings which have a 3+ metre span and coast on upper level air currents using only as much energy as they would sitting on the ocean surface. They stay in Chile for five years sowing their wild oats and return to the Otago for responsible parenthood. How do they know how to get here? No idea. Some say via smell. There are some orphan chicks here which are incubated, fed and nurtured by the Centre’s staff. The oldest regular visitor was Grandma, who was still breeding at 60. (If you’re interested.) It has been a sanctuary since 1927 and is a most impressive place.

We saw some adults flying and just how magnificent were they. There was a brisk wind blowing and so sensitive and I guess efficient were their aerodynamics that it wasn’t always easy to land.

On the way home Myrna decided we should go to Sandfly Bay via Highcroft Road and what a drive it turned out to be. This is a pretty gorgeous part of the world.

Sandfly Bay is where sand flies rather than where there are sand flies, and had its own impressive dunes with a carefully marked path for human visitors.

And we were lucky enough to be completely ignored by four panaka, New Zealand sea lions.

Here are three of them, with one heading off bored or possibly embarrassed, because it was clear that the other two were involved in some serious foreplay.

Okay. Speculative. But the female on the left would chew away at the male (do I know the genders? No. Not for certain. But my ‘she’ was smaller and sleaker.) until she garnered some similar response. Play fights. He’d get bored. She draped herself over the drift tree still chomping and whimpering, then slid back and my ‘he’ lifted himself up and just flopped on her, all half a tonne of him. It went on, but so did we. Important to give creatures their privacy.

Old bloke leaving a panaka squatting on its haunches to its own devices.

Then there’s the other side of the bay. We had seen this oddity from Taiaroa Head and thought we should investigate more closely.

This is The Mole, all 1.2 kms of it sticking out into the mouth of the harbour. A ‘mole’ (which has the same root as ‘molecule’ and the chemical measurement ‘mole’ meaning ‘mass’) differs from a pier or jetty in that it is solid. Water can’t pass underneath it. There are nine shipwrecks contributing to the rock and cement here. The idea was to prevent sand bars blocking the entrance to the harbour. This is apparently successful, and it is repaired from time to time.

It doesn’t look like it in the pic above but this area was swarming with sea birds. I don’t know what the ones below were but I don’t think gulls: wrong beak, wrong colouring. I’m pretty sure they are terns, but in their hundreds they were wheeling and squalling, a majestic performance really.

We hadn’t had enormous luck with food. The parents and the teenage graduands were better prepared than we were and had soaked up the more obvious eating places. But I’d liked the look of a place we’d tried at St Clair Beach and thought we should give it a go. And a go we gave it. Titi. Chef’s choice of food, er hem locally sourced of course and some of the most imaginative and brilliantly successful cooking I’ve ever tasted. Everything was right. The table was Goldilocks-sized, the chairs comfortable, the service fun, alert but not intrusive, and very well educated. They had to recite the contents of each of the dishes and they did so with enthusiasm and pride. From the texture, taste and colour of the avocado foundation of the amuse bouche to the pumpkin ice cream, a bavarois with a thin coating of white chocolate for dessert, one masterpiece after another kept arriving.

Myrna had the vegetarian offering and I’m pretty sure this was ‘Ettrick’s Carrots’, a soup with lemongrass, coconut, cashew, coriander, lime and paw paw. The purple is the carrot, the flavour of which I can only describe as enticingly warm.

I know: disgraceful. But I don’t care. Once in a while it’s good to encounter the work of a genius with food. I’d go again right now. They’d be open. 24 The Esplanade, St Clair. Come on. Why not? Let’s go.

Nearly there. I thought I’d like to show you this dish of helleborus grown at the Blueskin Nurseries in Waitati. I’ve never seen helleborus, usually a most discrete plant, with such offerings.

Back in Christchurch everything was normal again.

And finally some advice.

Press either the Go button or ‘Replay’

Christchurch: Recoveries

IMG_0148.jpgScott of the Antarctic. I have a fixed memory of seeing him years ago in Latimer Square over the road from where we were staying rather than next to the river nudging the CBD as he now does, and apparently always has. I remember how his gloves looked weird as though suffering from some sort of gigantism, and that there was an odd stump affair holding up his back leg. I do. Clear as crystal. Memory (shakes head), traducer …

Now I also discover that the statue, sculpted by Scott’s wife, Kathleen, was never finished. The ‘stump’ is helping to hold the whole shebang up. The gloves were to be reworked. (Good idea. They add a hint of jocular insincerity to what is clearly intended to be a serious work.) It was commissioned in 1913, started (in Italy, the war) in 1916 and the ribbon was cut in 1917 in the understanding (hers) that further work would occur. It never did. (1917?! During the war to end all wars. Just how far away from Europe is New Zealand, and for that matter just how big a deal was Scott’s expedition?)

I also remembered, correctly, that the inscription includes a late extract from Scott’s diary.

I do not regret this journey, which shows
that Englishmen can endure hardships,
help one another, and meet death with
as great fortitude as ever in the past.

May I suggest reference to Fintan O’Toole’s Heroic Failure for further insight into this specifically English form of masochism, that of building an identity out of the romance of defeat. Amundsen got to the Pole (and back, losing no one) 33 days earlier because he was better equipped, better organised, more experienced and less full of, what can I say, lordly self-engrossed bullshit.

Christchurch’s relevance is that Scott left from Lyttleton, nearly but not quite a suburb, and Kathleen was travelling there to meet him when she learnt of his death.

He fell off his plinth breaking both legs on the 22 Feb 2011, along with a lot of the rest of the city, in what could only be called a catastrophe. But now, … he’s back! Gloves and all. We were there, quite incidentally, for the re-installation ceremony.

The statue looks north to what was in 1917 the key civic buildings. And now eight years later? Everything back? Sorted?IMG_0158.jpgNo. Still work to be done. Fortitude still required.

* * * * * *

A catastrophe.

The earthquake destroyed or rendered unusable 90 percent of the 600 or so CBD buildings. 12,000 other properties registered damage exceeding $100,000. More tellingly, 185 people died.

If you want an idea of scale, today’s papers are full of horror about the possible dollar cost of the Australian 2019/20 bushfires. Could be as much as $1.2 or even $2 billion. Horrific. But not long ago the NZ Reserve Bank estimated the total construction cost of the rebuild in Christchurch to be about $40 billion, $16 billion for each of residential and commercial construction and around $7 billion for infrastructure. And that is the construction cost. There are so many other costs involved. (I don’t want to spoil my point about the magnitude — and concentration — of what happened in Christchurch, but in Australia, for example, the unimaginable damage of what is happening this very day to the natural environment and its constituents can never be quantified.)

A lot has happened in eight years. We were there in 2015 and I thought then that it looked at least partly like a gigantic building site. The motifs were chain link fences, blasted heath car parks loosely covered with grey road metal, public art and shipping containers.2015-07-22 14.37.18.jpgThat was then;IMG_0177 (1).jpgthis is now. It’s not over yet by any means.

On the more recent visit our favourite coffee shop, the C-One, was still there, still standing, but like a monumental outrider rather than a molar in a set of teeth.IMG_0174.jpgWhat was it serving? And this is important.

Top left below are Lamingtons w/- white chocolate, coconut and [I quote] ‘a hypodermic berry syringe’. But just below the Banoffie Pies and the Custard Squares and to the right of the Caramel Walnut Brownies and the Marshmallow Caramel Slice are the Hemp Raw Balls (bottom right): w/- walnuts, almonds, linseeds [sic], sunflower seeds, dates, apricots and prunes [the entirety, just in case it’s not clear] dipped in vegan chocolate, pumpkin seeds, cranberries and Kako Samoa (refined sugar free, dairy free, vegan, gluten free, contains nuts). By some lights extreme sure, but up to the minute, the very instant in fact. NZ scones might have gone off, and tragically we think this is possible, but there is no obvious impediment to the boundaries of innovative edibles.IMG_0168.jpg

Four years ago this plaque was embedded in the seats along the footpath outside.img_1908.jpgIs that what has happened? I don’t know. But the view from that seat in 2015 was this.img_1829.jpgAnd now it’s this.IMG_0170.jpgBack, and going: and I am pleased to say including corgius intactus. They survived.

Miro restaurant (a much more interesting chocolatey red than appears here), which had for several years housed squatters, is another example of fastidious restoration20190205-NAT_3770+midlands+building.jpgwith very stylish interiors.original_sin_-interior_seating.jpg

There are some interesting new buildings but not as many as I thought there might be. Bouncing on huge isolators, this is an extension to the main hospital. The ‘X’ feature on the right is a structural member.IMG_0160.jpg

I thought this was wonderful.IMG_0175 (1).jpgŌtautahi: the place/home of (Te Potiki) Tautahi, the Maori name for the place where some of Christchurch is now, specifically near the fire station next to the river some distance from this building. But why this is so striking is that we are looking at a flat surface (with two obvious indents where the balconies are). It used to be a flat cream brick wall, and now it isn’t. L’oeil is certainly tromped. Just wonderful. And part of the new groovy area which was never far from here. Maybe that’s the Amundsen approach to recovery.

As might be obvious this was one of several beautiful days (i.e. before it got to -4C in Dunedin), IMG_0163.jpgand Hagley Park, undamaged by the quake, was as glorious as ever. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to talk about a recovery from something that never happened, but this massive park in the middle of the city must be some sort of ‘recovery’ salve for the body politic.

Recovery is a complex notion. It might be assumed that it means return to a prior state. If so, there is no recovery and never will be from a natural disaster. Things will not be the same. The flavour of life, the form and colours of the background, social and economic as well as topographical, will have changed forever. I didn’t talk to enough people to get any idea about what they thought had happened but, even eight years after, the local paper ‘The Press’ still has plenty of column space for earthquake-related issues.

IMG_0715 (1).jpgSo over its centuries of life what has this magnificent tree seen?

The answer of course is nothing. Not a cracker. Trees can’t see. When SmoCo, the Australian Prime Minister talks about ‘the terrible threat that nature provides to this country’ he seems to be suggesting that, if not vision, ‘nature’ has agency and for that reason needs confinement, punishment even, a damned good thrashing! This is the sentiment getting a strong run in Australia’s Murdoch media — we must burn everything down to avoid everything being burnt down.

The real reminder should be that the only part of ‘nature’ that is capable of generating a threat is humankind. Only we can construct that as an idea. ‘Nature’ — if that’s what we call the climate, the vegetation, the landscape and its animal, bird and insect populations, the seas and rivers, the environment of which we are a part — may contain threats, but it doesn’t make them. 

‘Threats’ come from the idea that humanity’s task is to subdue nature and ‘have dominion over it’. If subdue means damage we’re going well. ‘Achieving dominion over nature’, a very strange idea in itself, will never occur; and only people who haven’t experienced droughts, earthquakes, fire, wind or marine storms would assume otherwise. This is the irony of the anthropocene age: we can make a first class mess of things, but we can’t control them.

This is where Scott (of the Antarctic rather than the Shire) and his ilk come in handy. They have words for confronting the implacability of ‘nature’: resolution, fortitude, backbone, fibre, pluck, dauntlessness. And those words are helpful to some degree. Who could complain about someone displaying fortitude?

But in terms of recovery efforts, if I had to choose I’d be turning myself inside out to make sure Amundsen was in charge.

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.

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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.