WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
It wasn’t like anything. I was suddenly awake. Our small beachside home was rattling, engulfed by a noise I didn’t understand. I made my way to the door frame, past the trembling walls then into the kitchen. Everything we owned was crashing around me. I w
FOR A MOMENT, the violence dimmed to rage, and we fled through the patio door into the wobbling garden, the air still, the world in violent tremor. At this point, you're supposed to grab your emergency pack, collect warm clothes, supplies, and your windup radio, safely packed somewhere convenient. You're also meant to punch sharks in the eyes when they attack, reach into the crocodile's mouth and stand still when the elephant charges. You don't. You flee. Your body shortcuts 50 millennia of civilisation, and you are 200,000 years straight back to the African plains. You are running, every molecule of your being remembers, beyond fear and terror, there is flight. For all our technology, our understanding and striving for more, in that shaking instant it becomes acutely apparent we are still just humanoids lost in space and ruled by a predisposition to survive. As we ran in the dark, barefoot, deeply concerned that if the epicentre were out at sea, then there would surely be a tsunami approaching, I didn't feel the juddering sharp gravel. I didn't feel the chill of the night. My veins were bursting, and my legs possessed. We were out the house and had run 400 metres by the time the initial quake ceased. We headed for higher ground, across slumped bridges, several times jumping in people's cars and driving only a few metres before big cracks in the road opened before us, stopping us in our tracks. We heard the sound of cows helpless and wailing and watched as power poles were banging from side to side. With each massive aftershock, a new wave of chemicals from our adrenal glands arrived. We got to higher ground and waited, listening to the landslide in the mountain ranges behind. We sat in someone's car, listening to the radio, catching our breath, like survivors of a shipwreck waiting for dawn.
We didn't know it at the time, but just two minutes after midnight on that night a 7.8 magnitude earthquake centred in Culverden, bubbled up from the depths and triggered a complex series of both strike-slip and thrust
faults, rupturing at a speed of two kilometres a second for 200 kilometres northward. The entire event lasted for two minutes with the worst of the shaking lasting 50 seconds. The Hope, Hundalee, Waipapa and Kekerengu faults were among six major fault lines that all ruptured in rapid succession, driving the seabed upward, pulling Cape Campbell two metres closer to the North Island, shunting Kaikoura northeast by nearly a metre, and forcing it upwards by 70 centimetres. A tsunami did hit just before daybreak, a two-and-a-half metre surge, thankfully only causing minimal damage. It was one of the largest and most complex earthquakes recorded in New Zealand's European history.
The aftershocks kept coming; bellowing rumbles and pulses of adrenaline still pumping as we were dropped off at a rural crossroad on the plains somewhere between the sea, the mountains and a blood red sky. The hills were dusty, and the sea looked guilty. Dawn broke across the panorama of Kaikoura, a place that I have had the privilege to call home for the last four years, and the aftermath of this big, complex, fascinating and destructive event started to unfold.
As an outsider, an immigrant to this land, to witness the way this community ‘got stuck right in' within hours was incredible. The resourcefulness, resilience and sense of co-operation the people showed is something I will never forget.
It is a deep self-reliance, born from the necessity of living in these sublime and remote islands, which comes into its own at times like these. The outpour of support from the rest of New Zealand toward those affected and the sheer rate of recovery is a testament to the vitality of this young nation.
These images are a document of that immediate aftermath, and I'd like to think they speak for themselves. They are the product of my experience of ‘the quake' and hopefully, an honest one. For all our confused feelings towards nature, for all our cave paintings and Instagram feeds, our pollution and desecration, our classifications and observations, our gushing admiration and relentless exploitation, it matters little. Our sentiments are not reciprocated; nature is without sentiment. It is older and bigger than us, and it moves in ways we shall never fathom, on this pulsating rock, alone, out here in space.