Sunday, January 29, 2012

Grief and Resilience

January 22nd – 29th
 On the morning of January 22nd, (January 21st in the States) we learned that Darrell’s father had passed away. While not unexpected, as Norbert had been receiving full-time care for more than a year, it was still a sad shock. Darrell made flight arrangements and we drove straight over Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch so he could catch his 7 pm flight. I stayed in Christchurch with two dear friends of Vera’s, Matt and Margaret.

Christchurch, as most of you are aware, has suffered some horrific earthquakes over the past 17 months. The first major one, in September of 2010 (magnitude 7.1), was centered west of Christchurch, and caused some damage including to Matt and Margaret’s home. They were just determining how much to salvage when the second major earthquake (magnitude 6.3) hit in February of 2011. This earthquake caused tremendous damage to the CBD (Central Business District) and 182 people lost their lives. Since the first earthquake, there have been continuous aftershocks. The first morning I was in Christchurch, there were three earthquakes. I only felt the largest one, a magnitude 4.5 quake that shook my coffee and jiggled my chair. Very eerie.

Each day I stayed with Matt and Margaret I took the bus to a different part of Christchurch and walked around. Each place showed both damage and rebirth. The CBD is no exception.

One area of the Christchurch CBD
Most of the CBD is still cordoned off. No one has been allowed in many of the buildings so they still have the purses, coffee cups and computers that were left almost a year ago. One of the areas hit the hardest was Cashel Mall. After the rubble was cleared, some of the businesses began again in new shipping containers in an area called ReStart. There is also a memorial to the many people who lost their lives there on that day.

ReStart District on the site of the Cashel Mall
Another view of the ReStart shopping district
Many volunteers worked in the aftermath of the quakes, and there are still volunteer efforts being organized to improve the city. One group is called “Greening the Rubble” and the white board in the background states the time and place of the next volunteer action.

Beautification courtesy of "Greening the Rubble"
I hiked up the Sumner headlands south of Christchurch, and got a view back to Sumner and Redcliffs where part of the cliff came down in the February earthquake.  Then another strong earthquake hit in June of 2011, and caused further damage to these cliffs and of course the homes built on the cliffs…

Cliffs above Sumner, just southeast of Christchurch
Close-up of Cliffside home
I’m not often contemplative, but the yin and yang of being confronted so directly by the power of nature and the resilience of the people, while also reflecting on the life and death of Darrell’s father and the impact on his family, encouraged somber thoughts.

Darrell is back in New Zealand now, and he is also changed from the intense experience of being with his family and putting his father to rest.

I'll leave you with a beautiful picture of the beach showing the area where we are now staying. The beach stretches for miles and miles and is wonderful for long, and contemplative, walks.

The beach stretches to the far right for a long, long way...

Punakaiki and Hokitika (I love Maori names!)

January 18th to 22nd
There are relatively few roads in NZ, so when we drive to out of the way places like Karamea and Farewell Spit, we need to backtrack on the same roads. We almost didn’t drive to some limestone arches because of the one-lane winding gravel road to get there and back, but the lure of seeing the arches overcame the fear of meeting another campervan on a narrow spot on the road!

Darrell under one of the limestone arches
After our two hikes to the arches, we backtracked all the way to the library at Westport again where we got a strong enough wifi signal to work in the van in the parking lot. Then we bought some groceries and headed down the road to a free campsite by the Fox River.

The next morning I went for a hike with a woman who was camped alone just behind us. Maria has been traveling for the past two and a half years! She began from her home in Spain and spent a lot of time in the Middle East before going to India and eventually to New Zealand.  She will continue to travel until she runs out of money.

Maria by our tree "cave"
Maria and I were trying to reach a cave and ended up on the wrong trail. We kept following orange flagging, but after an hour of bush whacking we figured this wasn’t the route! So we took a picture of a tree "cave" we found in case we never found the real cave.

We backtracked to the correct trail, and went into the cave with a young Swiss and French couple that had much better headlamps than we did. The cave has been a popular tourist destination for over a hundred years so it isn’t in any kind of pristine condition, but it was still fun to go into.

Fox River Cave
After that adventure, Darrell and I continued down the road to Punakaiki, where the “Pancake Rocks” are accessed by a walkway that gets a lot of tourists. After the quiet places we have been, it was strange to be among busloads of tourists! These limestone rocks have an interesting erosional pattern that gives them their name.

There are also blowholes and surge pools when the tide comes in. At low tide the kelp hangs on the sides of the pool. And then at high tide, the entire wall and rock get inundated with waves and somehow the kelp hang on for the ride!

The kelp hang like a row of ties at low tide
Larger view of this same pool at high tide with the waves crashing over the kelp and rocks
The next day we spent some time looking for more glacial marine deposits and then took a walk by the glacially fed river at Hokitika Gorge. We camped in the parking area for the Whitcombe Track but I couldn’t find any information on this track in my tramping book, and when we followed the trail we ended up in a pastured area with cows and sheep!

Darrell enjoying the gorgeous glacial blue Hokitika Gorge
The next morning we drove into Hokitika and worked at the very pleasant library. I can’t say enough good things about the libraries! Besides using the wifi, I almost always end up buying one of their $2 paperbacks as well. Then the next library down the road gets the old book and I buy a new one.

Hokitika is most known as the pounamu (jade) capital of New Zealand. We spent some time admiring both the traditional and modern jade carvings in town. The picture below shows the clocktower (common in many towns here) with the Maori carving studio and jade store behind it.

Hokitika Clocktower
For lunch, I bought a Whitebait sandwich. The West is mad for Whitebait. This is basically a tiny (1 inch) fish that gets caught in nets. So it isn’t like yummy fish and chips.  Instead, they take a handful of whitebait and mix it with an egg and fry it up. It looks like an egg sandwich with a bunch of fish eyes staring up at you. Hmmm. I am NOT mad for Whitebait but I am glad I tried it!

We continued south to Ross, where Darrell was trying to find a Pliocene marine deposit with shells in it. Ross is still being actively mined for gold, so much of the area was off limits for exploration. But we happened upon a man who owned a limestone quarry and he gave Darrell permission to have a look around. We actually found the deposit there and Darrell collected some of the shells.

Darrell and the almost hidden Pliocene marine deposit
Ross was the furthest south we ventured for now. We headed back north and camped at a pretty little lake that had a DOC campground. It would almost remind me of Minnesota except for the Southern Alps in the background!

Mindy at Lake Mahinepua