Our tour bus arrived to to the city of Christchurch just before midday. We had time during the afternoon to visit the downtown area before we were scheduled to catch our evening 4-hour flight to Australia to land in Melbourne.
As we entered downtown, I realized that I was not prepared to see so much devastation within the city.
In a way, as we drove around, it seemed that the city had been recently bombed from the sky and they were starting the slow process of rebuilding.
I had no idea that a major earthquake had struck the city in 2011. I'm sure that I must of read the headlines back home when it occurred but it obviously didn't register in my mind. Now I was visiting and seeing the devastation first hand. The impact was extensive.
The sidewalks city streets were uneven and it rocked our bus a bit. There were many empty lots on multiple city blocks. Quite a number of building must have crumbled or weakend and had to be demolished. A few structures were still up and they had placed a series of stacked old cargo containers next to the building walls to prevent them from collapsing into the streets. On other blocks you could see that the inside of the building had caught fire and were engulfed completely. There were multiple floor building that seem intact but in fact were empty because they were now structurally weakened.
We stopped to rest in the downtown open food court area. It was a quaint area of several small blocks. What was unique was that all the shops were inside reconditioned and stacked cargo containers. Small shops were in them. The sides, of the containers, had been cut out and refitted with glass. Other containers were retrofitted with hydraulics and thus when the store would open, an entire side of the container would come down sideways. It works on the idea of a drawbridge entrance to a castle. Other stores were simply small converted house trailers. The Mexican food trailer was a small one but given the long waiting line, we passed it up. We wanted to try the New Zealand Mexican tacos. Perhaps next time we come through here.
As we continued visiting Christchurch, I soon realize that what happened here can very easily happen back home in Southern California. Both our home and Christchurch are built on major faults as part of the worldwide Ring of Fire. The downtown area in Christchurch was built where the ground is mainly sand and water. Somewhat like building over areas that were once sandy ocean floor or river deposit areas. The earthquake allows for the water to travel upward through the sand deposits and reach the surface. During the earthquake, the ground becomes soft and building begin to move around and break apart. This process is referred to as liquefaction. There are in fact large areas, in the Los Angeles area, that are also on top of sandy basins and are highly susceptible to partial sinking and shifting during a major earthquake. We are blessed that we have trees, back home, and consequently many of our buildings use lumber and can absorb the earth's movement. As for the effects of a major earthquake on the building in the downtown area of Los Angeles, that is a whole different issue.
Thereafter, we had a couple of hours to visit the Canterbury Museum which highlights New Zealand's cultural and natural history. I enjoyed visiting the exhibits on the Polynesians settling the area and the artifacts on the historic whaling industry that took place in these waters.
My preference, in the museum, was the exhibits on the sightings and exploration of Antarctica. The United States Navy started exploring Antarctica in 1839. What was amazing was to learn, from their display, that Greek philosophers from 600 BC - 300 BC had theorized that there was a north and south region. I also learned that Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek and Egyptian writer, in 60 AD, wrote about a land down under in his notes "Terra Australis Incognita".
Touring the exhibits of the Antarctica explorations reminded me of when we visited Punta Arenas in Chile. In that port, we saw the Spanish and Russia exploratory ships docked next to our cruise ship. They were both very large ice breakers. I can still recall feeling the vibration of the engine from the Russian ship while standing on the concrete pier. Their engines must have been very powerful being that it was only idling.
I wished we had more time in Christchurch. I would have loved to visit the International Antarctic Centre. The city's airport also serves as a base for military aircraft to fly to Antactica. It takes military cargo planes 5-hours to get there. The U.S., Italy and New Zealand fly from Christchurch to McMurdo Station base in Antarctica.
Seeing the exhibits, in the museum, revitalized my dream of visiting Antactica. In case you share my dream, there are several companies that offer exploration tours to Antarctica. I've been looking into the exploration offer by the National Geographic which travels for 14-days. One boards either of their ships in Ushuaia, Argentina. It costs around one-thousand dollars a day. Cruises operate during their summer months (November to February). It's surly an adventure of a lifetime. This is certainly a trip "off the beaten path".
As we headed to the airport we stopped momentarily to see where several bent salvaged beams from the Twin Towers, from New York, were on display. It's titled "The 9/11 Memorial" on the Firefighters Reserve. We learned that several firefighter families invited and brought other families of firefighters that lost their lives in the collapse of the Towers to come here for vacation. It was touching to learn about their outreach and support.
During our flight to Australia, I was remembering the many sights and experiences that we had visiting both the northern and southern islands that make up New Zealand. The people we met throughout the country were great. They were very hospitable and friendly.
There wasn't a lot to time to reminisce on what we just experienced. We had to review out personal notes and get ready for our visit to Melbourne in Australia.