New Zealand Notes on...

Aftershocks and polo ponies in Christchurch, New Zealand

My visit began with a ‘rather strong’ earthquake. But there’s no question the long flight was worth it

12 March 2016

9:00 AM

12 March 2016

9:00 AM

On my first night in Christchurch, I woke at 3.32 a.m. to what felt like an explosion. My bed was rocking, and a few things fell off the shelves. After my initial panic, I realised what it was: an earthquake, of course. The next question: what to do? Being an earthquake virgin, I had no idea if this was a big ’un or a small one — so I stayed put. I would listen to what was going on outside, I decided, and if people seemed to be panicking or moving, I’d join them. Fortunately the shaking soon subsided, so I resorted to Google. It was true. On Sunday 28 March, there had been a ‘rather strong’ 4.27 magnitude earthquake just outside town. Welcome to New Zealand.

Given where I was, I should have worked out more quickly what was going on. After a 28-hour journey, my senses of both location and time were a bit off. Christchurch is, however, well known for earthquakes — most famously the 6.3 magnitude one that flattened much of the city centre five years ago, on 22 February 2011.

Five years might seem a long time, but the effects of that quake on the city are still obvious. Wander the residential areas and every couple of hundred metres you’ll come across an empty lot with hoardings around it, where a demolished building waits to be rebuilt. The centre is the most visible reminder of 2011; modern, multi-storey buildings are under construction, and building sites surround the half-destroyed cathedral, which no one can decide what to do with. (Except Christchurch’s pigeons, which have found themselves a perfect roost.) Since many shops, bars and restaurants were also destroyed, a temporary solution exists in the form of the Re:Start mall, made from shipping containers and sitting slap-bang in the middle of the rubble and building works.

Though almost six million people pass through Christchurch airport every year, not many stay for long. On the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, it’s more usually a stopping point for people travelling onwards to places like Queenstown, the adventure capital of the country (and birthplace of the bungee jump) and the gateway to New Zealand’s famous fjords, Kaikoura with its outstanding aquatic wildlife, or up to the mountainous Lord of the Rings landscape of North Island. Although the country is a similar size to the UK, the population is around four million, so there’s plenty of open road to explore. Hiring a car is the most practical way to get around — and if you rent yourself a campervan, the country is your oyster.

But that’s not what I’m here for. New Zealand is also a horse-lover’s paradise, and my trip has one aim: to sharpen up my polo before the summer starts. We’re playing at Waireka, a 40-minute drive from Christchurch, where Roddy Wood, the former manager of Guards Polo Club, has set up his polo pony training centre. Monday to Friday means all-day polo — leaving two days to get out and about. Saturday to relax on the beach where earlier this year the cliffs collapsed due to another earthquake; Sunday to drive to sleepy Akaroa to swim with the wild Hector’s dolphins in the harbour. Yes, the flight to New Zealand might be a long one — but I can assure you that it’s worth it.

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  • Ray Spring

    Congratulations on an excellent description of Christchurch, NZ. Do not mention the cow or milk problem however, the farmers are in serious difficulties.

  • trobrianders

    Being so far flung is NZ a place where civilisation might survive multiculturalism?

    • E.I.Cronin

      Great minds think alike. But yes, if Europe continues into chaos and violence my hope is the Antipodes are a refuge where we can regroup and rebuild.

      It has it’s social, political & environmental problems of course, but NZ is the best, most beautiful country in the world. Their Maori & Pakeha heritage is unique and marvellous. Kiwis are how Aussies used to be.

      • Matthew O’Malley

        I don’t think Kiwi’s and Aussies have ever been alike. Completely different histories, mixes of culture not to mention landscape and weather. Similarities between the two are usually very shallow.

        • E.I.Cronin

          That comment was meant for trobrianders as a person. But I disagree completely – having lived in both countries the shared heritage (for the Pakeha) is very noticeable. The differences are strong too, NZ was colonised by wealthier and more cultured Scots. We had a stronger English, Irish and Welsh influx. But living in the South I felt like I had rediscovered what it once felt like in Australia. The Anglosphere is a broad church, we’re all part of the same great family. Kiwis are distinct, but we’re closely related. Perhaps not brothers, but cousins.

        • E.I.Cronin

          Ps a speccie article last year mentioned a Sydney Morning Herald article from 1922. It criticised using the term ‘immigrant’ when applied to the English recent arrivals in Oz. It was pointed out they were moving from one part of the Empire to another. That’s how I felt moving here. Yes of course, landscape, weather, and the relationship with the indigenous are radically different there. But language, architecture, faith, folk traditions, and blood and bone were all recognisable. In NZ you still see original settler stock. Up until recently there were parts of Australia were you could as well. But yes, some wonderful differences too.

    • steddyneddy


    • Thanks Man

      Sadly, no. NZ, like Australia, is becoming less and less Anglocentric by the day. In the 90s, it was decided, with no democratic mandate whatsoever (of course), to open our borders to China. The current government has also decided to sell our housing stock and strategic assets to them as well. Joy of joys. They do not commit crime, or sponge off the welfare state like, say the Polynesians do. However, they are culturally the polar opposite to Kiwis and the two shall never meet/

      We are well on our way to becoming an Asian country, in every single sense. Walking through Auckland, you may as well be walking through Guangzhou with a nicer harbour. It pisses lot of Kiwis off because we were never asked about it and many of us don’t approve.

      so if you wanted a nice quaint bastion of old style Anglocentricity, sadly that ship has sailed mate.

      • trobrianders

        Oh dear! Another shattered illusion. European culture is being obliterated.

      • mohdanga

        Just like the main cities of Canada, invaded by the Chinese at the behest of diversity loving liberal politicians.

      • mohdanga

        The West is finished. When whitey is gone who are the “minorities” going to blame for their poor lot in life?

        • Birtles

          They’ll still blame us – we just won’t be around to hear it.

      • Birtles

        What you Kiwis need is one of these (from Oz):

        Don’t just slide into oblivion.

  • Davedeparis

    If you like boxes, you’ll love Christchurch.

  • fishspouse

    Come by all means, but if you do rent a campervan, please dont:
    Clog the roads by travelling in convoy;
    Try to camp in beauty spots where overnighting is not permitted;
    Leave your parking sites a filthy mess of discarded rubbish and human waste.

    The locals are getting bloody fed up with visitors, especially those from Europe who ought to know better, making disgusting messes and freeloading. It’s been really much more noticeable this summer.

  • PeterK10

    I visited NZ in 1986 to see Halley’s Comet. The comet could only be viewed from the Southern Hemisphere, and we two Americans decided NZ would be the place. This was one of the best decisions ever made!

    We rented a campervan for about $25./day and had 3 weeks in NZ before moving on to Australia (1 week) and Fiji (3 days). Spent a good deal of time in the Christchurch area, eventually staying several days in Akaroa, out on the Banks Peninsula.

    Our trip was well before Lord of the Rings was filmed. Everywhere we went, the locals were incredibly friendly and helpful. NZ’s climate and topography are so varied, in my journal I referred to the country as God’s playground, where He experimented before going global!

    My memories of NZ remain as vivid as if I had been there yesterday.

    • SunnyD

      I remember when I was good at reminiscing…..ah, those were the days….