Vacation Interrupted - A Canadian Photographer's Experience In New Zealand
After a day of heavy rainfall on November 12, the sun was shining on November 13. Having arrived in Kaikoura the day before, we were eager to see the spectacular landscapes and wildlife. Highway 1 north of Kaikoura must be one of the most scenic drives in the world. The road runs along the ocean at the base of the mountains while a train track and tunnels run alongside. First stop was the Ohau Point seal colony just north of Kaikoura on highway 1. We had no idea that we might be among the last to see this beautiful place. We parked and walked towards the waterfall where we spotted a seal pup playfully swimming in the river. He looked up at us curiously as he did summersaults and allowed the current to push him downstream. The adult seals were sunning themselves on the rocks and, as I soon discovered, in the grass too - one seal was particular upset when I accidentally came too close!
From there we went to the Kaikoura peninsula walkway and seal colony. The tide was low and we walked out on the exposed rock. The seals here seemed much more accustomed to tourists than those at Ohau point. They barely opened their eyes as tourists snapped pictures of them sunning themselves. We returned to our accommodations, Kaikoura Cottages, for some lunch and then headed to Kaikoura's South Bay. We walked up the path to the top of the cliffs overlooking the crystal blue waters. It was a very sunny but windy day. We ended the day with fresh fish at Cooper's Catch for supper. I decided to see if I could take some more pictures closer to sunset. I headed north again on Highway 1 and returned home around 9:30pm. We went to bed that evening, excited to continue our trip to Christchurch the next morning.
At 12:02am I woke up to our bed shaking and the rumble of an earthquake. Earthquakes aren't that unusual in New Zealand so at first I assumed this was just a minor quake. But the shaking didn't stop, it got stronger. As it got stronger I heard things crashing in the kitchen and living room of our cottage, glass breaking. Our bed was moving so much it felt as if I was riding an amusement park ride. I worried the entire house was going to come down around us. I worried the bunkbeds my older two children had been so excited to sleep in would topple over. After about a minute, the shaking subsided and stopped.
Our youngest whimpered "mama" from his crib, my wife grabbed him while I went to get our other two children from their bedroom. Thankfully we were all ok and the cottage itself was intact. The power was out so we fumbled around in the dark, my wife found her cell phone but there was no cell service. My cell phone had been sitting on a ledge but had been sent flying by the quake and I couldn't find it. The aftershocks started, we heard a low rumble and then the cottage started shaking again. The cottage host came around to make sure we were ok. He said he did not think there would be a tsunami because the quake seemed to have been right underneath us but to listen for the tsunami siren and to evacuate inland. A tsunami - wow, I had not even thought of that. We started to get dressed in case we needed to evacuate. I watched and became more nervous as I saw other guests getting in their vehicles and leaving. I took our oldest to the bathroom and found the floor covered in water that had sloshed out of the toilet bowl during the quake. Aftershocks continued every few minutes. Through the trees, I could see the flashing lights of a police car stopped on the highway just outside of our cottage. The host came around again and said there was a tsunami warning for the entire east coast of New Zealand and we needed to evacuate.
We quickly got the kids in the car and grabbed some food to take with us. We headed inland but quickly had to stop as the road ahead of us was impassable. A section of road had been pushed up 15". We turned around and stopped at the police car which was blocking the highway to the north. We were instructed to drive through town to higher ground. We made our way through town and parked near the hospital. There were lots of other vehicles parked there and people standing around talking. With each aftershock the car would wobble. We turned on the radio and listened to reports about the quake. Once it was safe we returned to our cottage, it was only later that morning that we heard that all roads leading out of Kaikoura were blocked by massive rock slides so we would be staying there for a while. The aftershocks continued literally every 5 minutes, most minor but some were very strong. We had a beautiful view of the mountains from our cottage but with each major aftershock we could see plumes of dust rising up from those mountains as more rock slides occur, some so large they would obscure the mountain entirely.
Our hosts were amazing, they offered us food from their own pantry, collected water from the river for boiling and allowed us to stay two extra nights. We were in a much better position that many others. Once it became clear that the roads would not be cleared anytime soon, we got on the list to be evacuated by military helicopter. We were told to leave our rental vehicle in the school field. That last day we were running low on food as we left our cottage that morning, we had only half a bag of cereal and a bit of water left. It was a bit chaotic at the Red Cross registration centre. Initially they did not have us on the list for evacuation, but eventually that was fixed and we were one of the first choppers out that morning.
We were part of a group of 12 that was transported by bus to the rugby field where the helicopters were landing and taking off. We waited inside a small building and a member of the military entered, tossed a box of earplugs on the table and gave us our instructions. When directed, we made our way across the field with our luggage to our waiting helicopter. We buckled in and the helicopter took off with baggage secured by some netting and us seated in jump seats. As we neared Christchurch for landing, one of the officers secured himself and then opened the helicopter door as we circled to land. Once on the ground we were interviewed by a local reporter before making our way inside to the Red Cross reception centre. We were registered and they even had small bags of candy for the kids. They arranged transport to the airport where we secured a new rental car and we were back on our way.
3 hours before the Earthquake
Theodore not sure why were sleeping in the car in high ground
Dennis is not a morning person and Bella is. Can you tell :)
These 2 ladies did a phenomenal job organizing the evacuation
Last of our food from our awesome hosts at Kaikoura cottages
Only communication inside Kaikoura besides listening to Radio was a Wifi spot Hospital provided
Reason why nobody can get out or in besides Helicopter then eventually ships
Our Mountain View gone from aftershocks causing rock slides
Waiting for Theo's Travel Crib :)
I was not going to let the Earthquake have my kids miss seeing Blue Penguins the same day we got evacuated. They were so happy that night
A few nice photos of New Zealand