Sunday, January 29, 2012

NZ Earthquakes 1931

The Christchurch earthquake was devastating and continues to haunt the city. People are still living with uncertainty as many buildings remain cordoned off and aftershocks are still being felt a year later. It is unusual in length but not in strength.

As I write this I am staying on a yacht that is moored In the Napier Harbour. If you like vintage planes, old machinery, and 1950’s fashion, you would love Napier.

It is a small city on the East coast of the North Island of New Zealand and four hours from Wellington. It is slightly warmer than Wellington and more often sunny. It is a coastal city, bordered on two sides by the Pacific Ocean and the Harbour and overlooked by myriads of homes, built on the steep surrounding hills, many of them perched on stilts for stability.

It is a beautiful city and a popular place to take holidays and to retire. It is also a city built on tragedy.

On an ordinary Tuesday morning in February 1931, the city was rocked by an earthquake. If you have seen the Christchurch earthquake on TV, this was worse.

It lasted two and a half minutes; measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and killed 256 people. Many more were injured and almost all the buildings in town as well as in the nearby town of Hastings were destroyed. The Wellington Regional newspaper suggested that Napier had been “Wiped off the map.”

There were big changes to the surrounding areas too. Nearby coastal areas were lifted around two metres and about 40km of seabed, became dry land. This land is now the airport and the busy port area and shipping terminals.

The Port that used to be sea floor

It was huge and changed the region significantly.

Over the next few years, most of the city had to be rebuilt, so even now, it has a distinct 1930’s feel. All the public buildings, the parks, even the garden layouts, were designed in the style of the day, Art Deco.

Napier honours that past with museums and displays and by holding a very popular Art Deco weekend every February. I was here last year and many women wore flowery dresses and cloche hats while their men looked dapper in their suits and boater type hats. In three weeks, I will tell you all about it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

From Gravestones to Beach Stones - Hutt Valley, New Zealand

After the last blog about local slums, I thought I had better show you some better pictures of my neighbourhood. I have been exploring and I always take photos, even on home turf.

This one was taken from a cemetery that I had never explored before. It is five minutes from home and my son works making headstones across the road. This  view looks across the Hutt Valley region to the Wellington harbour.

This is taken from the top of the main road across the hill to the suburb of Wainuiomata. In Australia this would be a mountain, but in New Zealand this is just one of the many hills surrounding the region. I guess that is why it is called a "Valley."
That is also Wellington Harbour in the distance.

 Some of the sculptures on the Petone beach. These represent oars and the place where the Europeans first came ashore to settle in the 1800's.

In the Harbour itself. Boats, jetskis and the Inter-Island Ferry in the distance. On a hot day it is a great place for water sports.
They say you can't beat Wellington on a good day. I tend to agree.
Sometimes home can become so familiar that I forget how beautiful it can be.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The disappearing suburb and a child named Mighty

It was a rundown community for the poor and disadvantaged. It was the kind of place where children were given names like Storm or Freedom or Mighty.
Children played outside until long after dark. Yards were decorated with broken down cars, rusty prams, and old appliances too big to go in the council rubbish. It was home to gangs and drug dealers and the disadvantaged.
Now the whole neighbourhood of about 80 units has been disbanded.
The two story weather board units were built seventy years ago to help the families of soldiers returning from war. For the last few years, residents have been complaining about rats and mould. It was the seedy side of Wellington, akin to Harlem or maybe Brixton.

People have been moved into other communities, and each week another building is torn down into a huge pile of rubble that lingers for a few days, and then is picked up and taken away, leaving the area a blank canvas for new developments.

It was never a popular community, except with those who could afford nothing else, or those that were particularly proud of living in “grass roots” New Zealand. It was a community people fell into and sometimes never made it out of.

Some families lived there for over thirty years, propped up by government benefits, and subsidised housing costs. Many had grown used to be being supported in their government assisted lifestyle and were understandably upset about the change.

About twenty residents set up a tent city and stayed onsite in protest. It lasted only a few weeks. I suspect there wasn’t enough interest by the media or sympathy from the community.

Bit by bit the homes and the memories are being removed. Change is always hard, but it brings to mind the saying “Change is inevitable, misery is optional.”

I hope these families find a reason to embrace the move and welcome new opportunities. This is New Zealand and one of the most beautiful countries on earth.

I hope children like Mighty and his sibling Kingdezzy, (yes, these are real names) get a chance to live in a more beautiful and prosperous part of it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I have a confession to make.

I am not in Australia, I am in New Zealand for a few months.

I wasn’t going to write about it because I called New Zealand home for over 40 years and besides, this blog is called traveller in Oz.

But then I thought; there may be some of you that are as interested in New Zealand as I am in Australia. It is a fascinating country. I just happen to be in an uninteresting corner.

I am staying with four of my sons in what used to be my family home.

It is in the second cheapest suburb in the region, as it was the only place we could afford a five bedroom, two bathroom house, at a time when more than 90% of homes had one bathroom. (Most still do) We also have 6742 sq metres of land so the boys can have space to run around. Naturally as children of the 90’s and the new millennium they prefer to use just ten square meters of it to stay inside and play computer games.

There are two sides to our suburb; the “good” side, where children are picked up from school in four wheel drives, and the “bad” side where you don’t leave washing on the line at night and shoes get stolen from outside your door. We live in the good side.

One of New Zealand’s best model designers lives in our suburb, so the shopping centre boasts a wonderfully designed two seater bike with a metal man on the front who pedals along with anyone brave enough to ride on the back. Four other interactive structures were installed just before I left but this is the only one that seems to have lasted the two years since.

New sculpture
Our suburbs welcoming structure is a sculpture shaped like two worms mating. It is currently being used to display some wags collection of road safety cones.

Now they have added a new sculpture in a similar style. It seems to be designed for longevity and not aesthetic reasons. From some angles it looks like a finger in the air gesture.

I did love it here and it’s a nice community to raise a family but after twenty years, it has lost its charm for me. I am a wanderer.

If you add in the chilly winters, Antarctic winds and unreliable summers, you might see why I have chosen to move to sunny Queensland Australia.

My next post will be about the nearby suburb that is not just fading, it is vanishing. You have been warned.