Monthly Archives: February 2013

Christchurch

Two Years After the Quake

Today I had the opportunity to visit the city of Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand.  Today is also the two-year anniversary of the massive earthquake that rocked the city, collapsed buildings and killed 185 people.

Past the river you can look into the distance and see the crumbled remains of fallen buildings

Past the river you can look into the distance and see the crumbled remains of fallen buildings

The last time I was in downtown Christchurch was in early 2010.  Immediately today I was impressed, not by what I saw of the earthquake’s damage, but by what I did not see.  Statues were missing from their pedestals, churches were missing spires, and buildings were missing walls and roofs.  I became completely disoriented as I walked around because nothing looked familiar.  Where there used to be a row of thriving bars and restaurants along the river, there’s now just a huge, flat, dirt parking lot.  The same earthen empty lots punctuate every city block.  They are the former sites of tall city buildings.  Now just twisted rebar remains jut up from ground, marking where the corners of the building used to be.  Many structures stand in half collapsing states, surrounded by chicken wire fences and orange road cones.  The road cones are everywhere directing cars and foot traffic around the disheveled remains of the city.

Church Rebuild

Steel supports hold up an old building

Looking over CBD

The old CBD in disarray

Notice the spire on the ground in front of the building

Notice the spire on the ground in front of the building

One square mile in the central business district (CBD) is completely off limits and peeking through the fence around it I could see the crumbling cathedral and the central square that I walked through many times to buy books, get lunch, or visit an internet café.  The city had a sad air to it today, but life goes on all around the fallen structures.

Overgrown Street in CBD

Deserted city streets

TV Comm Bldg Site

The site of the Canterbury Communications building that collapsed and killed around 100 people during the earthquake.

Flowers in Tires

Beautifying the city with recycled tires planted with flowers. These are placed all around the Red Zone.

A bright point in the crumbling CBD is a little area known as the Re:Start Mall.  Old shipping containers, like those you see on 18-wheelers, trains, and cargo ships, have been repurposed and made into stores and food stalls.  There are containers turned into clothing stores – from high fashion to mountaineering gear – in addition to skate and surf shops, and stores selling New Zealand novelties and handmade crafts.  I even saw several containers welded together that had been made into a Mac store.  I had Indian food for lunch and a friend bought a falafel pocket, both from little kitchens set up in old containers.  Some had been plumbed and turned into bathroom stalls, complete with sinks and hand dryers.  It’s fabulous to see the progressive thinking, the bright spot of commerce and trade, and the reuse of a plentiful resource – containers that would otherwise be rusting away in an empty lot somewhere.

Diggers

A layer of chalky dust lays on everything in downtown Christchurch from all the demolition and repair work going on. One of these diggers has an electromagnet on the bucket to recover scrap metal from the ruins of the building.

Church Crumble

Remains of the Catholic Cathedral. In the lower right you can see a photograph of what the church looked like before the earthquake.  Note the containers on the right side full of sand and propping up the church while its future is decided.

 

Cracked Bridge

A cracked footbridge wall

Red Zone CBD

The Red Zone is closed to the public and buildings are unstable in the zone.

Balloon writing

People were writing on balloons to commemorate the two year anniversary of the quake

Balloon

Container Mall_Coffee

Building from containers — a new hub for the city of Christchurch

At 12:51 pm the entire mall area fell silent.  The stores were locked up and everyone gathered in a central area to observe two minutes of silence in remembrance of the people who died in the earthquake.  I stood shoulder to shoulder in the crowd with people who had likely lived through the scariest experience of their lives.  There were some stiffled tears in the gathering, a crying baby, but on the whole, I felt a spirit of survival, strength and forward vision.  Right after the service, I listened to two young women behind me happily talking about an upcoming wedding, and people wandered back to open their businesses and greet their customers.  This city will thrive again – but only after many years of rebuilding.

Container Mall_Far

A bright spot in the city — the Re:Start Mall built from repurposed shipping containers

Container Mall_Weiners

You can even get lunch from a container!

Container Mall_Street Container Mall_Street2

 

 

 

New Zealand Fur Seals

Here I am taking a group of guests in a Zodiac by a couple of New Zealand fur seals as they rest on shore.

Taking a group of guests in a Zodiac by a couple of New Zealand fur seals as they rest on shore.

For the last several weeks I have been cruising up and down the coasts of New Zealand’s North and South Islands.  Everywhere we drop our Zodiacs into the water, we encounter New Zealand fur seals resting on rocky shores.  Many of these marine mammals are brand new pups – maybe just a month or two old.  They play together all day in shallow rock pools waiting for their mothers to return with a bellyful of fish, and a meal of milk for her pup.

The huge eyes of a fur seal pup as it checks out the camera.

The huge eyes of a fur seal pup as it checks out the camera.

Most of the females will give birth to one pup during the New Zealand summer months of December and January.  Right now in mid-February we are lucky to be seeing lots of small, dark brown pups along the shores.  The large, dominant males have scattered already and we’ve seen them alone or in small groups from time to time.  Many of the shores are now the realm of the breeding females and their young ones.

One or two weeks after she gives birth, the mother fur seal starts going far out to sea to catch fish.  She can be gone anywhere from one to six days while her pups waits on shore for her return.  No wonder the pups we see are calling out for their mother, making all kinds of wonderful sounds, almost like the bleating of a lamb.  It’s fun to imitate them!

A fur seal pup waits for its mother to return from an offshore fishing trip.

A fur seal pup waits for its mother to return from an offshore fishing trip.

Many of the early western settlers to New Zealand were sealers who came here to take advantage of the untapped resource they found in the seals.  In the days before plastic, synthetic fibers and crude oil, seal skins were very valuable for warm clothing and fashion, and their oil was used to light lamps around the world.  Nowadays the sealing has stopped and the seals are protected, but they still get tangled in fishery trawl nets and absorb cancer-causing chemicals from fish in the sea.

The good news is that their numbers are bouncing back now that they are protected, and it’s not hard to find great haul-out spots along the New Zealand coast to watch these amazing animals.

Believe it or not, these seals can move pretty quickly on land.  It's a good idea to keep a healthy distance between you when you watch them.

Believe it or not, these seals can move pretty quickly on land. It’s a good idea to keep a healthy distance between you when you watch them.