New Zealand #06 – Kiwi, Christchurch & Earthquake Part 1
New Zealand #06 – Kiwi & Earthquake
This installment of my New Zealand Travel log is going to be a bit different. What is different this time is that I don’t have very many photos. Our first stop was at the Kiwi Encounter which did not allow photography. This was followed by an airplane flight from the middle of the North Island to the middle of the South Island without a window seat and I don’t think you’d care to see a photo of a bag of nuts. Once we landed in Christchurch we did a bus tour of the city where I have a few shots, but photographing from a moving bus is always a bit sketchy.
So, all in all not much opportunity to use the camera. But the information from this day is fascinating and I hope you take the time to read through it – even though it is light on photographs.
Stuffed Kiwi in museum
In Rotorua at a place called Rainbow Springs is the “Kiwi Encounter”. This is an institute dedicated to breeding Kiwi. Kiwi became a part of this park when it opened in 1975 at which time they were on display in a zoo like manner. Then in 1995 Rainbow Springs joined the Operation Nest Egg (O.N.E) program and received its first egg from the Tongariro Forest Kiwi Sanctuary. Over the next few years, with the increase in hatching success rate, the numbers of eggs brought to Rainbow Springs rapidly increased. This success rate prompted them to build a new facility which would be designed to allow public viewing of the full range of activities. This was completed in 2004 and is still a highly rated educational site for tourists and school groups alike. Over the years it has grown to become the largest and most successful kiwi hatching facility in the world. They start with eggs found in the wild, then bring them in for incubation and hatching with subsequent release of the chicks back into the wild once they can fend for themselves. They now receive eggs from 15 sanctuaries and reserves around the North Island and have hatched over 1,650 eggs at the facility.
Kiwi are a strange bird about the size of a chicken. And like a chicken they have wings (albeit much smaller than chicken wings) but cannot fly. However they do have whiskers like a cat, massive feet, a very long thin curved beak like a humming bird and they lay the largest egg in relation to body size in the world. They are related to the ostrich and emu.
Without egg eating predators Kiwi, like most bird species in New Zealand, lost their ability to fly. Over the years their adaption to a ground based life has been quite dramatic. For one thing they have no “keel” on the sternum to anchor wing muscles. Their vestigial wings are so small that they are nearly invisible under their coat of bristly, hair-like, two-branched feathers. While most adult birds worldwide have hollow bones to minimize weight for flight, kiwi have marrow in their bones like mammals. With no constraints on weight, brown kiwi females carry and lay a single egg that may weigh as much as 16 oz.
There are about 68,000 kiwi left in New Zealand with the population going down by about 2% per year. If that trend would continue, experts estimate brown kiwi will become extinct in the wild within two generations.
The facility at Rainbow Springs is actually quite nice. There is a room you can go into where there are windows that let you look into the incubator (hatching) room. There is another similar room where they raise the newly hatched chicks in large wooden boxes. Then there is a Kiwi Museum and a walk through, indoor, forest with live Kiwi (on the other side of glass walls). The forest is set up to mimic night during the day and day during the night. As Kiwi’s are nocturnal, in this way they are active when the center is open so you can see them scurrying around the forest floor.
Our visit was quite remarkable. We first went into the hatching room where the president of the institute provided us with much information about the birds, the center, and how they manage the whole process. There were about 4 eggs in the hatching room that day, two of which were thought to be near term but it seems to be very hard to predict when they will actually hatch. So, we listened to the talk and watched for a good 40 minutes before heading over to the room where they raise the chicks.
As we were listening to information about how the birds are raised one of our group who had stayed behind in the first room came over to let us know that “things were happening” back in the first room. So, we all hurried back to the first room and watched in awe as one of the Kiwi eggs hatched. It took the little guy about 15 minutes to complete the process with rest periods every couple of minutes. But, with pecking a hole in the shell and then using that as a weak point kept stretching its legs to form a crack that after many more pushes eventually split the shell in half and the little guy was free. Only to be scooped up by a worker to be weighed, checked and put in an incubator to keep warm. It was really quite exciting to watch.
Portrait of a Kiwi (from http://www.pngmart.com)
Christchurch and Earthquakes
Map Flight from Rotorua to Christchurch
Getting from Rotorua to Christchurch was the first of four airplane flights we would take within the country. Christchurch is about half way down the eastern side of the South Island. In looking at this city today it is nearly impossible to understand what it had been like just 8 years ago. There must have been many things to see as many tour companies spent several days in and around the city but today it is quite different. Now the entire story of Christchurch can be summed up in one word - “earthquake”. This story of a major modern city being hit with a 7.2 and then a 6.3 earthquake in modern times is a case study for the rest of us who live in earthquake country.
But, let us start with a bit of geography and history. This is one of the few cities in New Zealand that was not originally a Maori village. It was founded based on the needs of farmers when 4 small boats of settlers came ashore here in 1850. These settlers were just looking for flat land with rich soil and enough rain to keep the crops happy but also with lots of bright sunny days. This set of requirements are typically found on the eastern side of the two New Zealand Islands where rivers bring sediments down form the mountains. When such rivers spread out over large coastal plains they deposit layer upon layer of rich silt that is great for farming and the river provides potable water. And, this is just the sort of place where the city of Christchurch is located. But, what makes for a good place for an 1800’s farm does not necessarily make a good place for a modern city.
Unlike many places where big rivers meet the sea, at Christchurch where the Waimakariri River empties into the Pacific Ocean there is no navigable harbor. This was not considered a real impediment to an 1800’s farming community as only small boats needed access. The main city lies on the south side of the river (the north side was too swampy). Then to the south of the city is a mountainous area left over from a volcano, now dormant, which formed a circular peninsula sticking out in to the sea. This round peninsula has several inlets where valleys have filled with sea water. One of these is the closest harbor to Christchurch and a little town called Lyttelton grew up there to support shipping and is Christchurch’s only port.
But, having the port for Christchurch in Lyttelton has always been an issue. First of all, to get to and from the port you must climb over a 1,500 foot tall mountain range. This was not an easy task for individual people let alone for the moving of tons of goods in each direction. But, they really couldn’t build a port at Christchurch. And by the time shipping became an important aspect of city prosperity the city already had a population of over 4,000 making it too big to abandon and move someplace else. So they decided to put in a railroad tunnel. This 1 mile long tunnel was completed in the 1860’s and at that time was the longest tunnel in the British Empire. Now, you’ll need to take a mighty leap forward 100 years all the way to the 1960’s before the first road was tunneled through and this road is aptly named “Tunnel Road”. Even today this is only a two lane road but at least there is a road so trucks can haul goods to and from the harbor. Over the years Christchurch has grown to around 400,000 residents (350,000 in the city proper and the rest in the surrounding suburbs).
Okay, so now let’s get into earthquakes. As you know by now New Zealand is at a plate boundary producing many volcanoes and earthquake faults. In fact without earthquakes New Zealand would not exist at all. In the Christchurch area the big faults are in the mountains about 100 miles from town. These faults can generate quakes in the magnitude 9 realm which is quite similar to the San Andreas Fault here in California. However, there are many smaller faults closer to the city and this is where the problem came from.
In September, 2010 there was a 7.2 quake about 10 miles outside of town. This was a surprise to the geologists at the time as before then they did not realize there were faults in the bedrock under the 2,000 feet of sediment the city is built on. This quake caused some damage, mostly to the un-reinforced buildings in town. Most chimney’s came down and even though there were several injuries, no lives were lost. After the quake, everything was inspected, repairs were made where needed, and life got back to normal - for a while.
Then, 5 months later, in February of 2011 a 6.3 quake hit just 5 miles from the central city. This one was much closer to the surface than the prior one. It was also on a “thrust” fault whose direction aimed the shock waves directly into the city center. This was the oft talked about “big one”. This should sound familiar to those of us living near the San Andreas Fault as after each quake we have they are always quick to point out that it was not “the big one”. Well, for Christchurch this was their “big one” and it was quite destructive.
Of all the buildings in the central, downtown district, only two collapsed in the 2011 quake. All the other buildings, many of which were 10 or more stories tall remained standing. Unfortunately there was a school on the first floor of one of the buildings that fell down and 100 of the students there at the time lost their lives. Throughout the rest of the city there were another 85 fatalities. A subsequent analysis of the two collapsed buildings found that the one with the school had “design and construction shortcomings”. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like it was not up to code and one can only speculate how it had originally been approved for occupancy. To make matters worse, after the first quake 5 months earlier it had been inspected but that inspection did not detect the construction “deficiencies”. The other building that fell down was near a steam that flows through downtown and the building (foundation and all) slide down toward the stream.
Current Google Earth map of central business district. Note the number of empty lots in what had been a fully built out downtown.
Over the months after the quake there were several magnitude 6.0 quakes including ones in June and December of 2011. So far there have been over 14,000 aftershocks. More recently, they had a 5.0 in February of 2016 and another as recently as November of 2016 which was 100 miles north of the city in a tourist area. This one cut a major rail line as well as the highway to the north part of the island and both will be out of commission for at least a year.
Getting back to the 2011 quake, 70% of buildings in the central district had to be torn down and 100% of residential structures suffered some degree of damage. The design concept for commercial property is to keep people alive inside even if building gets damaged beyond repair -- it worked.
After the quake they didn’t want buildings falling on people so they cordoned off the downtown section as an exclusion zone and put it under lock down. This lasted 2 years. As it turned out at the time of the quake the Singapore army happened to be nearby for war games so they along with the NZ army and the local police manned checkpoints keeping the general public out of the downtown district. Only Government officials and their hired geologists, scientists and structural engineers were allowed in. In the third month business people were allowed in one time for 1 hour to retrieve business records. During this one hour they were escorted by police to make sure they didn’t overstay their time and to assure that – out of fairness – they only retrieved business records.
One building in the central district had been built like a bunker shortly before the earthquake and along with a few other buildings in the district sustained little damage. Due to the nature of the business at this one building it was given an exemption and even through it was inside the exclusion zone, it was allowed to remain open with workers and customers allowed to go to and from it. This was, of course, was the Casino. I kid you not.
Because the length of time the central city would be closed was not certain, many businesses grabbed long term leases on buildings just outside the exclusion zone where they re-established their businesses. Now that people know where their new location is, it is uncertain how many will just choose to stay there rather than move back into the middle when space becomes available.
Typical damaged building next door to a building that has been mostly torn down.
After the earthquake the government did geological surveys throughout the city and created new land use maps defining where one could re-build and where you couldn’t, Due to this huge residential tracts of land along the river that flows through town were put in a red zone which means no one can live there and no commercial buildings are allowed. This turned out to be an area roughly 9 miles long by around 400 yd’s wide on either side of the river and included around 800 residences. The people who were already living there were given a choice. Either, a) take a payment for your property based in the latest assessment prior to the earthquakes and leave. Or b), just leave. To encourage people to take the payment and go, all the services (electricity, water, sewer, etc.) were cut off in red zone areas.
This land use map also contained green zones where you could re-build and orange zones where they just didn’t know which way to go and would be decided later. Since then some orange zones have become green and some red. However, some of the new green zones were not quite as good as others so they now have 3 shades of green. All very confusing – especially for the housing market.
In general New Zealand Society is very well insured. Most residential and commercial properties had full coverage. But this put quite a strain on insurance companies as the quake was the largest monetary insurance loss worldwide since the 1950’s. The total loss is estimated at over $40 billion NZD. One insurance company has been bailed out by the government. The general consensus is that due to the amount of payouts and cash flow, most insurance companies are dragging their feet with claim payments, trying to stretch them out over more time.
All residential homeowner’s insurance policies automatically cover earthquakes as well as fire and other causes of damage – you don’t need to buy something extra like you do in California. When you buy insurance for your residential property, you pay a levy to a governmental earthquake commission in addition to whatever you pay to your private insurance carrier. This levy covers you for the first $100,000 worth of damage to your house. Normally this is adequate to cover most claims. But in the more upscale neighborhoods, mostly in the hills around the town, a total rebuild is well over the $100,000 provided by the EQ commission. And, as it turns out the 2011 fault runs right along the base of those very same hills so there was lots of damage up there.
So, here is how it works. If the estimated damage exceeds $100k, the EQ commission writes you a check for the $100k and turns you over to your private insurance carrier to work out the remainder of the cost. Typically you sign over your $100,000 check to your private carrier and then deal with them for all the repairs up to the limits of your policy. Sounds like a reasonable plan but the devil is in the details.
Here’s the catch-22. If the estimated damage is below the cap, then the commission covers all the repairs – even if the actual cost later turns out to be greater than the estimated $100k – which many times it does. However, if the original estimate is over the cap, the commission just writes you a check for $100k and from then on it’s between you and your private insurance carrier. So, if the damage is anywhere near $100k the commission wants to push it over $100k so they can write a check and be done with you. But, the insurance companies want the estimate to be less than $100k so you stay the responsibility of the commission rather than them. Due to this, many properties are in the middle of a dueling battle of estimates between the commission’s assessors and private insurance carrier’s assessors. Many times the homeowner then hires their own assessor making it a 3 way debate and until such time as an estimate is agreed to nothing can happen. It’s been 6 years and over 3,000 properties are still in this debate.
Many – perhaps most - of the residential private policies were written as “Full Replacement” policies with no dollar amount specified and no cap. And, according to law, all new construction must be done to the current building codes, (double glazing, beefier foundations, better insulation, etc.). So, if your house was a total loss you get a new house of the same size and room counts that is up to code. However, if you “repair”; only the repairs part must be done to the new codes. It seems some houses that right after the quake only seemed to be damaged, somehow fell down shortly thereafter. No one knows why.
Commercial governmental properties are not covered by the commission. The infrastructure of the city is pretty much a complete replace. The fed’s are taking care of the all the underground utilities (water, electric, sewer, gas) as well as federal buildings (courthouse, etc.). The city is handling the rest (city buildings, repaving, etc.) but once again there is a problem.
The city administration in power in the years leading up to the EQ was a conservative government in the election prior to the earthquakes ran on an “efficiency” and “run government like a business” platform. The party leader made a name for himself in terms of business efficiency and along with his party got elected. He made the city government much more efficient and one way he did this was by cutting way back on insurance to save money and probably give big tax breaks to big businesses. By the time the earthquakes hit, pretty much all of the city assets were grossly under-insured. This is making it quite tough for them to pay for all the rebuilding needed and due to this most of the heritage buildings are not in the rebuilding plan. And, of course the tax payers are footing the bill. I’ll bet they are now really glad they voted for that dude and party. Of course that sort of thing could never happen here in the USA. Right? No, really, it couldn’t happen here, could it?
In the 2010 event (first quake) the Methodist church was damaged and they stopped using it. There was great debate over whether or not it could be saved and brought up to code or would have to be torn down and rebuilt but either way it would be unusable for many years. So, over the months after first quake they moved all the artifacts and such out of the building. Unfortunately, some workers were trying to get the organ out when the Feb 2011 quake struck and they were killed when the building collapsed on them.
As the church was unusable, they needed to find a new place to hold services. Following the earthquakes, Shigeru Ban was invited for a visit by the cathedral's marketing and development manager to discuss a temporary cathedral that could also host concerts and civic events. Ban, is characterized as a "disaster architect" and decided to design the building pro bono. The building opened to the public in 2013 and was the first significant building opened as part of Christchurch's rebuild.
As getting materials into Christchurch was difficult and there was a strong push to only use domestic building materials, Ben came up with a clever design. Eight shipping containers form much of the walls at ground level. On top of these shipping containers are 96 cardboard tubes, 24 inches in diameter that rise in a peak 69 feet above the alter. These tubes have been waterproofed and covered with polycarbonate. It is now known as “The Cardboard Church”
Cardboard Church. You can see some of the cardboard tubes on the far side.
Cardboard Church. You can see one of the shipping containers in the bottom right
As I described, 185 people lost their lives in the 2011 earthquake. Officially called “Reflection of Loss of Lives, Livelihoods and Living in Neighborhood”, the Chair Memorial is an installation by Peter Majendie. It is located in an empty lot where a church once stood. The memorial consists of 185 white chairs where each one represents one of the 185 lives lost in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Each chair, just like its owner, has its own distinct personality, with the installation including armchairs, dining room chairs, a wheel chair, and even a baby bed.
International Firemen’s Memorial
In 2002, the year after 9/11, Christchurch hosted the International Fireman’s Games where firemen and women from all over the world come to compete. They tend to do strange things in the competition like running upstairs in the dark carrying 100 pound backpacks. As this was the first such games after 9/11, in honor of the 343 NYFD members who died in the 9/11 event they decided to erect a memorial to those firefighters.
As it turned out, this memorial is the only place where steel from the World Trade Center has been allowed to leave the United States.
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I hope you enjoyed reading this episode of our New Zealand trip.
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(Info from Wikipedia, Road Scholar Lectures, and pamphlets gathered at various sites along the way and attraction websites)
Keywords: Akaroa, Akaroa Harbor, Banks Peninsula, Blog, Christchurch, Christchurch Earthquake, Dan Hartford Photo, DanTravelBlog, DanTravelBlogNZ, European Settlement of Akaroa, Leading up to Treatyof Waitangi, NZ Wildlife, Pre-treaty New Zealand history
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