Saturday, 5 January 2013

An Unexpected Detour

We've had an intersting few days. After spending a relaxing night in Golden Bay recovering from the Abel Tasman hike, we set off for the West Coast and the Franz Josef glacier.

As soon as we got beyond Nelson the rain began and we spent the next six hours traversing mountain passes in a torrential downpour. At one point we had to stop because the rain reduced visibility to zero. We finally made it to the West Coast proper and as we drove further south we noticed that the land around the bridges we were crossing was beginning to flood as the rivers swelled. It was a great relief when we saw the sign for the Franz Josef glacier, only half and hour's drive away. But when we turned down the road for the final stretch we were stopped by a traffic official, who told us that part of the bridge up ahead had washed away, and showed us a picture similar to the one below. Needless to say we were heavily disappointed, because there is no other way to get to the glaciers other than a 12 hour detour.

So reluctantly we turned around and headed back to the nearest town, Greymouth. On the way back we recrossed the bridges and noticed that the water levels of the rivers had risen and had begun to widen considerably. We later learned that these areas needed to be evacuated due to flood risk.
When we got to Greymouth we learned that the route north back to Nelson was also closed, and our only way out was to drive east across the breadth of the south island to Christchurch. We decided to wait out the storm in Greymouth and assess our options in the morning. As the night went on we were treated to intense thunder and lighting, more torrential rain and hail, but by the next morning the storm had moved to the north. The routes south and north were still closed though, and so our only option was to go to Christchurch.

Our revised route

It was really disappointing to miss the glaciers, but we were compensated by a drive through an astoundingly beautiful mountain pass across the southern alps we otherwise would not have seen.

We only spent one night in Christchurch. I really wanted to see the earthquake damage and get a feel for the place. It feels very strange, like a ghost town, like something more than just load of buildings was broken. There is a profound sense of loss in the city, particularly in the red zone and it was clearly felt by the other people walking around, looking at the ruins of the city centre, talking in hushed tones.
Susan wrote a particularly poignant poem about the feeling which captures the mood quite accurately:

Toeriste fluisterpraat
Trap versigtig op die heilige? grond
Kliek:  katedraal wat verwese
           oorleun na een kant -
           gestut met staalstrukture
           grafitti teen die muur:
           Jesus saves
Kliek:  afgekordonde nagklub
           Open till late
           Striptease dancers
Kliek:  Verlate woonstelblokke
           krake en verval
           letsels nog rou
           Balkondeur kreun oop
           in die wind
           Stoel sigbaar -
           skeef gestamp

Tuis worstel ek in my slaap
om onder bourommel uit te beur
Ek verstik in stof en bloed en angs
en die oordonderende stilte
                     Christchurch, 3 Januarie 2013

ChristChurch Cathedral


Just around the corner from Cathedral square, the city council has set up a little commercial district called Re:START. All the shops and businesses are housed in shipping containers and it is to this little pile of steel boxes that the life of Christchurch has migrated. We sat down and had a coffee to soak up the energy of that little hub of human activity; a stark contrast with the sense of lifelessness of the broken wreckage surrounding it.

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