Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Christchurch – The 2011 earthquake

Our final place in New Zealand was Christchurch, and we were staying with some friends who we met when they were our first Airbnb hosts in London, back in 2012, before they emigrated.

Visiting Christchurch felt slightly strange, as the city is still showing the scars of the devastating earthquake that hit it in 2011.

Driving into town, there are building works everywhere, as they work to rebuild the city. It felt a little odd to park in a clearing where you know that a building once stood; the rubble on the ground and a small section of graffiti covered wall are all that remain of it now.

Earthquakes are neither new nor unusual in New Zealand. It apparently has some 15,000 a year, although only (only!) about 100-150 of them are big enough to actually feel. Christchurch has had its share over the years. One in the early hours of September 2010 was pretty bad, hitting 7.1 on the richter scale, but due to the time, and the strict building laws, the city and its people were relatively unscathed. That wasn’t the case just under six months later.

Old Cathedral, Christchurch

The earthquake that hit the city at 12:51 on 22 February was an aftershock from September and only 6.3 on the richter scale, so could have passed by with only limited damage, but for the fact that it hit a shallower faultline and for effects of the liquefaction.

The fact that this quake was less deep, only around 5km below the surface, means that the ground motion was around four times faster than previously, so caused far greater damage.

That motion also caused the liquefaction, which is basically where the waterlogged layers of silt and sand below the ground's surface are shaken so badly that they turn into liquid. That sludge moves, causing foundations to collapse. Where there are cracks in the ground, the sludge rises up and, together with the sewage from the inevitable broken pipes, floods the area and homes. The ground in some places becomes like quicksand.

As a result of this, the destruction was terrible, and many people were caught up in it. Between the falling buildings, and the fire that followed, 185 people lost their lives, 130 of them in just two office blocks that collapsed. Some of the suburbs worst hit by the liquefaction may not be re-occupied for many years.

Around the city, you can still see the notes left on buildings by the search and rescue teams to record that they had been cleared.

Quake City, Christchurch
If you are in Christchurch, I would highly recommend a visit to Quake City. It may sound a little like a Disney ride, but in fact it is an excellent exhibition about the earthquake, giving some really good explanations, and telling the story of what happened that day.

I suggest allowing plenty of time, because whilst it is small, one of the most compelling elements is the string of videos with survivors, rescuers, and the families of those who died.

Whilst obviously moving, it isn’t overly graphic or gloomy, and is done in a very tasteful way. It does, however, give you an excellent insight into what it was like to be there. In our opinion, it was well worth the time spent watching.

Snapa Crapa, Christchurch
On a lighter note, we also learned about the Snapa Crapa. After the September quake, many sewage lines were damaged, making inside toilets unuseable, so residents created temporary longdrop toilets in their gardens. Some of them became quite elaborate and inventive. The Snapa Crapa was one entry in the 'Show Us Your Longdrop' website competition.

RE:START, Christchurch

One thing that we noticed around town, was the ever present sight of shipping containers. If there is a shortage of them anywhere else, you know why – they’re all here.
Re:START, Christchurch

They are used as offices on the building sites, they are acting as supports for the facades of buildings where the rest of the structure has been demolished, and most interestingly, they have been used to create Re:START, a temporary shopping and food area.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch
Another temporary structure, that has garnered huge interest, is the cardboard cathedral. The city’s old cathedral was partially destroyed in the quake, and is unsafe; the plan is to rebuild it eventually, but given the scale of the works needing to be done here, that is some way off, and it is currently deconsecrated.

The Cardboard Cathedral was intended as an interim solution, although having proved to be so popular, it is now expected that it will be used as the local church once the old cathedral is finished. It is, as the name suggests, made largely from cardboard. There are obviously some other materials used – more shipping containers for one thing – but the inside is definitely cardboard. It looks very impressive.

From outside, you can see that there is a definite twist in the outline of the building. This isn’t the cardboard collapsing, it is part of the design by Shiguru Ban.
Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch
Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

185 Empty White Chairs, Christchurch

Near to the cathedral, is the most poignant reminder of the earthquake. It is a simple idea – 185 white-painted chairs, of varying sizes and types. These empty seats, all looking towards the cardboard cathedral, provide a very effective memorial to those who died.

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