It’s been a while since I’ve shared any “Things We Love About New Zealand” posts and trust me, there’s plenty more to share. But I also like that with all things good there’s some not-so good, which deserves to be acknowledged just as much as the good in order to learn, grow, and appreciate. So here’s my first “Things We Don’t Love About New Zealand” post, specifically Earthquakes and Isolation.
Yikes. Two weeks ago we had a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The epicenter was near a town on the South Island called Kaikoura, known as a top tourist destination for whale watching. They’ve had severe damage and two people died. We certainly felt the quake (or quakes; scientists say it was two earthquakes right after the other, making it last longer) in Wellington. Several buildings in the city suffered damage and coastal areas evacuated because of a tsunami threat. It was a scary night for New Zealand and emergency teams kicked ass updating everyone on what to do.
While the city shut down (and then surrounding areas suffered severe flooding), in our home we were okay. Scared, but ok. This wasn’t our first big one we’ve experienced. The month we moved to Wellington over three years ago, there were a string of large earthquakes. The house we lived in at the time was timber and more central, so we swayed and bounced as though in a fun house at the fair. Since moving into our new home (also timber) we’ve felt very little shakes (only those over 4.5M, depending on how close and deep they are to Wellington) and are in a high location, so don’t need to evacuate if there’s a tsunami warning. Our landlord has reassured us our house is ‘over-engineered’ for a quake and since he built it, I trust him. While we definitely feel the jolts and have to take cover, it still makes a stomach drop.
I don’t think it’s anything anyone can ever get used to. According to GeoNet, there’s an 80% chance of another damaging shake in our area within the next 30 days. I know it’s part of living in New Zealand. Based in the Pacific, we’re located in what’s called The Ring of Fire. That doesn’t sound like a vacation destination, does it?
The good news is the earthquakes don’t last long. Most are very short, but the bad news is when there are several in an hour (as has been our case lately), it really ups the vom factor. Unlike a tornado warning where you have to settle into the basement and wait it out as the lights flicker, shaking stops as quickly as it began and an assessment can begin right away.
The unfortunate news is there’s no way to predict when an earthquake will occur. At least with tornadoes, there are watches, warnings, and then sirens. Here, you could be lathering up in the shower, driving, or about to undergo surgery when the plates decide to shift. I think it’s the uncertainty of when that sets most people on edge.
And this is why I really love Kiwis. Kiwis are so chill about it, as if they’ve adopted a very Zen philosophy around it; accepting things they don’t have control over. I know I’m generalizing here and people freak out no matter what, but New Zealanders should give themselves proper credit. Everyone is in it together- everyone walks around, functioning in this cloud of uncertainty- and that takes guts. We still look out for one another; we warn about avoiding certain areas or buildings, we remind one another to drop, cover, hold and we accept that something big could happen but oh well. It’s a great lesson in letting go.
So, we prepare what we can. We stock shelves, load up on water and batteries, go over an emergency family plan, and then just hope for the best while still aware it’s inevitable the earth will shift again.
This is a big one for me but I’ll try to keep it short. Part of this feeling is due to our own lifestyle in our home. With a young kid, it’s easy to be homebound and shuffling between school, sports, and play dates. That sounds like enough of a connection with others, especially for someone who’s an introvert, but not really.
Date nights happen for us once (maybe twice) a year if my parents come to visit or we go to the USA. But otherwise, unless there’s a magic wand that grants reliable babysitters, it doesn’t happen. On top of that, one or both of us is usually too tired to go out after our son goes to bed. That’s parenthood, I think, but especially parenting abroad without family nearby. We’ve come to accept it and appreciate the solid foundation of our relationship that we’ve worked on for years before settling into this routine. But it’s really hard asking for help when we need it. It’s not that we don’t; it’s that it’s always complicated. Family tends to be (in most cases) reliable.
The isolation factor is heightened when I think about how tiny New Zealand is. Between the two islands, I think the population is around 5 million and we’re about the size of Colorado. That’s it. We’re small. And we’re far. Very, very far from pretty much everything. At times I really like that, but I itch to hop on a plane just to go somewhere different so I remember that I can. In three hours I can be in Australia or Fiji. Whew. That helps.
But then I remember it takes three plane rides to get to our families in America with one long 12-hour trans Pacific flight. And we still have trouble finding someone to pick us up at the airport! Always! Trust me, after traveling so far, especially with a kid, the only desire is to see loved ones and collapse. There’s no better feeling than seeing the people we’ve missed all year(s) after such a long journey.
And, that’s why we love visitors. Even if it’s people we don’t really know but are acquaintances- it doesn’t matter! It’s people from the other world! It means so much when fellow Americans tell us they’re coming to New Zealand and we do everything we can to rearrange our schedule so we can see them. And of course we know that when people say they’re coming to New Zealand, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re coming to see us. They want to explore Middle Earth and who wouldn’t? It’s phenomenal here!
The thing is, and maybe it’s selfish thinking on my part, but any bit of familiarity of our old home means so much. While we love living here and this is our new home (and the only home our son knows), we really miss the people we love. We’ve good friends down here we love, but that doesn’t take away from the love back home. Our history is always with us and is always a part of us. A familiar face can ease the loneliness even if temporary. And, it’s always nice to share and see that people actually do want to know what our lives are like down here.
Whew. This post is long. Just know that even though the ground may be shaky down here, our hearts are secure, warm, and ready to roll with you. You’re booking your flights now, right?