The route we had originally wanted to use, around the East coast of the South island has been closed since the Kiakoura earthquake. In the meantime the only way to get to Kiakoura, is to head SSW from Blenheim and then cut back across a mountain pas E to get to the coast. What was an hour and a half trip takes six. It is ironic to think our first experience away from the civilisation of Blenheim was a small town, famous and rich for harnessing the Earth’s power and its hot volcanic springs when our original destination had been damaged by that same but this time, spastically unregulated power.
Hanmer Springs lies on the cross country route to Kiakoura and became came our first stopping point on our journey down the East coast. Although it adds on many hours and miles in distance it did mean that we got to drive through some spectacular countryside as we crossed the mountains.
We had organised to meet Gill and Alasdair there. Surrounded by mountains, the view from the campsite was fantastic. The natural hot springs have been well developed into a great open air spa area with numerous small pools, spa tubs as well as a couple of large pools too. Of course there are slides as well and the kids had a great time going up and down, generally very loudly enjoying the hot water, less so standing in the cold wind queuing. Alasdair and I were required by the girls to join in the action and I’m afraid to say we probably were the biggest kids there. The ladies decided to refrain and stayed in the sanctuary of the pools. The water temperature ranges from 34-42C. We spent most of the day there are we would strongly recommend it, with kids or not. It is worth spending the extra $10 for the slide pass. If you are a member of the Top 10 camping organisation, you can claim discounts and a free re entry pass too – worth it if you want to leave and get lunch back at the campsite or in town.
With our next destination, Christchurch, being the third leg of a triangle, we decided to stay in Hanmer Springs, leave the tents where they were and drove to Kiakoura for a days road trip instead. The road was mainly clear but obviously damaged by the recent quake and there were many points where building work was ongoing. It took us about an hour and a half to do the 100km trip.
The town itself showed little obvious damage beyond the old theatre on the sea front that had barriers up around it. However, looking a little closer a lot of the shops were closed, with little white notices up saying they had failed building inspections and were closed until rebuilt/fixed. The shop below was luckier and was open for business. The trouble is, with the road to the N and the ferry closed, the only way to get to Kiakoura is by an out of the way route adding 5-6hrs to the journey time. The road, vital for its prosperity, will take something in the order of 18mths to be fixed. The town is hurting as it is not getting its annual fix of tourists either staying in the town or at least stopping for lunch or dinner on the way through to Christchurch a couple of hours to the S. One of the shop owners I talked to has written this summer season out and is just hopeful of getting a decent year next to be able to survive. The NZ government is helping local businesses with wages, securing jobs for an as yet unspecified period which has been well received but it is survival money and nothing more.
As our kids found (and I include Gill in that number) the school playground was a cracker. We arrived in time for the morning Saturday market in the park in front of the school. Whilst the grown ups went around the few stalls there buying some fantastic chutney in the progress, the kids had a good time, hooting and howling around the play park.
It is on the seafront you can really notice the difference to the landscape. There are parts of the local coastline that have been raised 5m or in old money, 15 feet! It is a staggeringly number. Vast areas of the until recently fertile fishery grounds along the coast have been destroyed due to this upheaval. There is a real worry that it will take a long time for the local fish and crustacean stocks to repopulate in decent numbers, a real source of income for the town. The biggest difference post quake is the colour of the water in the bay, said one of the local artists. It is now a far lighter blue indicating the bed has been raised there too. The pier at the S end of the bay used to be in the water. It will never see sea again.
There is a good walk from the S edge of town that takes you down and along the coast, allowing you to walk along a cliff route returning by the shore line through huge numbers of nesting seagulls and seals. It took us a couple of hours. The views across the various bays were great. We kept to the paths and the noisy fledglings gulls were oblivious to us. The seals simply ignored us. You are allowed to snorkel and dive from the shore and I think it would be fascinating to do so. It is a long walk in and out though so perhaps snorkelling would be best. Take a wetsuit. The water temp isn’t up to much.
We took the cross country road back across to Hanmer Springs again. As an impressive reminder of the power of the Earth, we saw this distorted road marking just short of one road bridge which had been destroyed in the quake, some 30 miles from Kiakoura. The road has been moved just a few inches and the damage to the bridge had destroyed it. Just what it was like to sit/cower through the big one lifting you and the Earth around you several metres doesn’t bear thinking about……
A bit terrifying, if I say so myself.