I’ve always enjoyed water but I guess it grew to be one of my passions (as part of The Passion Profile Challenge) when I had to go without. Then I realised its full significance to all my senses. I love to see it, hear it, touch it, taste it and yes, even to smell it.
I live on the east coast of an island. New Zealand being made up of three islands (two plus a small, but beautiful, one down the bottom) and I am always near the sea. In my life the furthest I have lived from the sea was about one hour, and at that there were lakes close by. I just don’t know what it is to not have the sea and I struggle to imagine being landlocked and having to travel days to get to the coast. Actually I just don’t think I would cope in such an environment. There is nothing better than to be able to smell the sea, even before you’ve arrived. To be perfectly honest I admit that occasionally the smell is not at all good thanks to the wastes that get pumped out to sea. I know they have to go somewhere but it just doesn’t seem right to me, especially when they interrupt that wonderful salty, fishy smell of pure sea.
Kiwi kids learn to swim early on and take to the beaches for the summer. There are some lovely beaches in New Zealand. But it’s not so much the gorgeous beaches that spring to mind as I remember but rather the regular haunts. As a family we spent summer weekends at Okahu Bay in Auckland, and holidays in a caravan park at Red Beach, north of Auckland. Another favourite was Judges Bay in Auckland. For five years as a teenager I lived five minutes walk from Island Bay in Wellington. Because of memories associated with the bay I both love this place and hate this place. I try to stay away when I visit but somehow find myself drawn back.I lived in Wellington for a total of 15 years and loved to see the harbour each day. Every day it was different. It could be calm and beautiful or whipped up, stormy and fierce. But for me seeing the harbour was like an essential part of the day. Lucky I either lived in houses, or worked in buildings, with great views.
In 2003 I arrived in Christchurch, described as The Garden City of New Zealand. Gardens weren’t exactly what I came here for but I was really happy to be living two minutes walk from the Avon River, one of two rivers that winds through the city. It is a beautiful place and in the days when I was running, walking and cycling, this is where I did it. There are many bridges crossing the river so I would go up one side and down the other. My favourite was to follow the river side to the sea (about 12 kilometres), but that was in my super fit days.Everything changed though when Christchurch was struck by the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. Actually the view in the picture to the right is not one I have seen for over 15 months now, even though it’s not that far from where I live. I’m no geologist so I’ll give you a very simple version, but the rivers in Christchurch, and a whole set of underground streams created enormous problems in the earthquakes. Much of the land around the Avon River can not be repaired and so residents are having to leave their homes.
The water level has risen significantly and along with some river banks collapsing, the whole place looks different now. Muchof it has been either closed off, or out of respect for people still trying to live there I have chosen to stay away. There are enough ‘rubberneckers’ out wanting to see the earthquake damage. It’s really hard on residents. This bridge is one people come to see. A footbridge that I regularly crossed. Now totally uncrossable (yes, that’s a new word!). For me it’s a symbol of how the river has changed. Once a thing of beauty but now a symbol of destruction and harm. There is talk of leaving the bridge as is, as a memorial.
In the days after the worst quakes it was necessary to have waste water and sewage pumped into the river. There was nowhere else for it to go. A necessity which has now been stopped but I guess the smell from those days, and just the thought of what the river contained has also changed my impression of it.
A lack of drinking water also changed my view of water. Suddenly it became like gold as I had to think about where to get water from, and when I needed it. I was lucky. While there were water stations around the city, these involved queues. My brother, who lives just outside the city, still had drinkable water and so I got all I needed from him. Actually for some time I also got water for my 90 year old neighbour. He omitted to tell me that his son was also getting water for him and it took us a while to realise he actually had two sources. I have no idea what he was doing with the extra water. Maybe a cold bath, maybe watering his garden (that we were strictly warned off doing).
As you can tell I had always loved water, and was particularly fond of the sea. But the earthquakes changed that too. Our deadly earthquake of 22 February 2011 did not involve a tsunami, but came only two weeks before the Japan earthquake and tsunami. To be honest, I didn’t actually take much notice of that event when it happened. We had electricity back on but we were still very much in survival mode. To see the images of the Japan tagedy was simply too much and I didn’t watch. The pain was too raw.
It was about eight weeks before I saw the sea again. It is only 10 kilometres from home but no one was going anywhere and roads were in an appalling state. But I missed the sea and so decided to go down to New Brighton Beach. When I got there and got out of the car I was overcome with fear. Suddenly after all I had been though, and all I knew had happened in Japan, I was aware of how strong and powerful the sea really was. I stood there and imagined a tsunami coming ashore. My life would have been over as there was no high ground to run to. I guess it gave me a new respect for something that I had pretty much always viewed with enjoyment. Now I have some sense of it’s power.
“Ah, well, then you’ve never stood on a beach as the waves came crashing in,
the water stretching out from you until it’s beyond sight, moving and blue
and alive and so much bigger than even the black beyond seems
because the ocean hides what it contains.”
― Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer
- The Passions Profile Challenge (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- New Zealand Adventures (akiwiinlondon.wordpress.com)