Thursday, July 16, 2009

This fickle land

I spent more than my fair share of my early years living in the shadows and ridges of the Tararuas. Parking at the aptly named Clifton family's place, ensconced so high in the hills they got colour TV while Palmy languished in black and white still. We'd strike out from a base camp in a back paddock and go from there. We wandered a bit through the hills, but most of the time we sat at camp while the old man went on the hunt.

I never went near the Southern Crossing, for the same reason I shy away from the Kaimanawas. I can see why some would walk it, but I'm more content with Kaitoki or Ruapehu in summer. Maybe a hike from Otaki to Shannon through the backblocks. For one, I'm a lightweight. One freak gust of wind is all it would take to throw me off a cliff. Second, all sorts of hell can break out without warning if the weather picks a fight on that chaotic terrain. It can go from beauty to misery in no time at all.

One weekend out tramping with Mountain Goat, a couple Yanks were pulled out by helicopter only a few kms up the way. On our track, it was nothing but fine weather and clear nights, when it's just the hut and the rest of the heavens above. But this other party was cold and wet and perhaps a little stupid, like Woody Allen going on Celebrity Survivor.

All due respect to the CEO of Te Papa and his mate losing themselves on those fickle heights. Both were experienced trampers caught in unfortunate circumstances.

Meantime, I missed the jolt in the deep south last night. Facebook was alive with chatter around the shaky isles. Measuring 7.8 deep in Fiordland, the NZ equivalent of Siberia, the quake also set off Fran Wilde:
Ms Wilde said in a large quake Wellington could be cut off, creating ''virtual islands in a sea of emptiness''.
Last time Wellington got hit by a big earthquake was 1888, with the big Masterton quake raising the land which would be later used for the Petone Wellington highway, Lambton Quay and Wellington airport. Earthquakes aren't all bad.

Not everyone shares my pragmatism. Some are quick to jump for the nearest door frame or convenient desk. One girl back in Tech used to faint at earthquakes. One evening there was a jolt. Half an hour later this chick comes through asking if anyone felt the quake. She had been asleep, woke up with the rattle, passed out, and only just come to again. She was unharmed but dizzy.

There's a house looming up above me on the hill with a large crack in the foundations. If serious things start moving, last place I'd want to be is ducking a house by standing under a door frame. I'd be running away from Chez Damocles as fast as I could, indoors or out.

It's not my first brush living with natural and man-made hazards. In the early 90's, I worked across the road from Paula Bennett's old job in Wairakei. The BP station there, the busiest in the country, sits next to the geothermal park. Wairakei is ten kilometres north of Taupo, which sits on the northern tip of Lake Taupo, the biggest caldera this side of Krakatoa. South of that, there's the three cones of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. One's a casual smoker and one's a regular.

If a big earthquake hit this part of the volcanic plateau, seven shades of Michael Bay could easily occur. Wairakei would quite simply disappear, increasing the size of the existing Craters of the Moon attraction considerably. That in turn could stir up one of the three cones or even the stogie of Taupo.

If Wellington would be marooned in an earthquake, consider Auckland's predicament. If all those pimply cones popped you'd snap the isthmus in half. Christchurch and Dunedin are exposed to tsunami much more than anywhere up north, largely due to the potential of South America's flat face to reflect big waves.

But why worry? Roll with it. If you really want to wallow in existential angst on the halflife of geological time, you really can't go past the giant asteroid in the face with Pink Floyd: