Caching In Quake Hit Christchurch

I’m not particularly scared of earthquakes, I grew up in Wellington and have a number of humorous quake stories, but I really wasn’t thrilled at the idea of a few days in Christchurch. There is something about knowing that a shake or two is likely that really unsettles and you gain an instant sympathy and respect for the people of Christchurch who so stoically manage this on a daily basis.

Zach relaxing back on the way to Christchurch

The reason for our trip was thanks to middle child, Zach (3), having an MRI at the excellent St Georges Radiology clinic. He wasn’t thrilled about being in Christchurch after learning all about the earthquakes at kindy. Never-the-less we depart Dunedin the day before and over seven hours cached our way up SH1, grabbing 19 smileys from 28 attempts (a disappointing number of DNFs really). We arrived in Christchurch after dark and aside from the eeriness of the suburban darkness (I’m an inner-city dweller – we have street lights!) all seems quite normal. We go to bed early in preparation for our early morning appointment.


The first thing that shakes me the next morning is not the earth but a text asking had I felt the 4.4 magnitude aftershock, along with all others, during the night. Fortunately I had slept right through but it was another reminder of the completely powerless situation you are in here. We all like to be control (or at least think we are) of our own lives.

Elmwood Park, the site of Christchurch cache 'Avery' and Cumbyrocks 700th find

I’m not required during the appointment (Zach was under a general anasthetic) and there is a couple of hours to kill so I decide to head out for my first daylight experience of caching in Christchurch. Despite the cold at 8:30am on a clear and crispy day I elect to walk the 600 odd metres to GC1VNA4 Avery. This would also be my 700th find and help to take my mind off unknown events back at the clinic.


Walking along Leinster road I’m struck by the normalcy of everything. People on their way to work, parents taking their kids to the nearby school and some lovely houses in the area. But then I start to notice the odd pile of grey, hard slush in the gutters. Liquefaction left over from one of the quakes. I turn a corner and find an area of footpath cordoned off to save people from the great big hole in it. Scaffolding along the side of some houses points to the chimneys that are under repair. No big deal really.

The drive back to our accommodation after the appointment reveals more of the devastation Christchurch had faced. We drive along perfectly normal looking roads with intact buildings and suddenly an entire brick building on a street corner is there sitting in ruins. Another couple of blocks and the same again. Away from devastation in the CBD this must a constant demoralizing sight for Christchurch residents. It’s not enough that the grounds shakes on an irregular basis, you have to be visually reminded of the damage and trauma that had happened.

A collapsed building in Papanui

Talking to the locals you see the signs of stress and strain. They are friendly and helpful but clearly suffering. I ask one chap what the work is occurring on the car park building (I was lost and needed directions, o’ the shame) and he casually passes it off with a smile as quake strengthening work. The nursing staff, to whom I apologize for raising the whole quake issue, claim to be okay with talking about the quake as it’s almost therapeutic, but they’re sick of having quakes to talk about. They say that if they weren’t tied to the place with jobs, houses, schools etc they’d be gone already. I comment that everyone seems so normal and lacking in stress, to which they talk about how everyone’s just learnt to smile and get on with the job. There is an overwhelming sense of unresolved grief in what they say and it occurs to me that Christchurch residents are almost suffering from mother natures version of battered spouse syndrome.

And in the caching world you can see the prominence the earthquake has in peoples lives. Not only were a number of caches archived as a result of the quakes but there is now an entire series of quakes caches devoted to them (start with GC2PHBA if you’re interested). My immediate thought was that it must be on every visiting cachers’ list to complete one of those caches, but once I arrived in the city I found intentionally seeking them out carried a level of perversion to it, like I was a natural disaster tourist.

Earthquake factors were not my only reasons for choosing certain caches, but they did play a part in some interesting ways. I intentionally avoided choosing city caches near buildings, partly because I wasn’t sure if the building was still there and partly because I didn’t want to be near buildings if there was a quake (and because parking is normally a hassle in city areas etc etc…I’m not a complete scaredy cat). I would also loved to have driven around the city a little but was reluctant to travel to or through areas that had been badly hit and not knowing Christchurch particularly well I stuck to my western suburbs area and it’s convenient access to SH1.

Our afternoon is spent visiting Orana Wildlife Park, the carrot for wee Zach to more easily accept the trip to Christchurch. On the way I stop to find GC20VMR Lady Saves A Village. It’s right in front of a big tree the hint says, however I see no big tree as I drive towards ground zero (a term with a completely different meaning to Cantabrians now). The GPS takes me to a spot just in front of an enormous fallen tree. The cache is still in place on my side of the fence but I can’t help wondering whether the tree fell because of the quakes, or may have needed knocking over after. The damn quakes creep quietly into just about everything don’t they?

And the ramifications of these quakes will no doubt continue to impact geocaching for some time to come. At present there is conversation about what to do with caches in the areas labelled the ‘red zone’, the area the government has decided won’t be rebuilt on. Access to areas is the biggest problem.

I drive away from Christchurch in the early morning rush hour traffic and stop briefly to pick up GC21MOR Cookie Monster. My timing on this one couldn’t have been better as I just make it back to the car before a handful of staff make their way to the entrance, their day of work awaiting. I race away and after I’m finished explaining to Zach why we couldn’t get a cookie it occurs to me that there is a tremendous amount of life in Christchurch that is normal. It’s a little like the city is on the brink of normalcy, just being knocked back time and time again. However, if my chilly morning walk to find Avery is any sort of representation of Christchurch’s caches then I will certainly be back when things calm down.

1 comment

  1. robnzh

    I think the quakes are getting to you more than you thought “there is now an entire series of quakes dedicated to [the quakes]” !

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