36 hours after the big one, our big one anyway, and I was starting to feel as though it was over and life can go on. There are other things to worry about now, there’s flooding here in Wellington for a start and there are residents being evacuated only a few kilometre’s away and we’re still catching up with ourselves and not even worrying about that fella in the US, what’s his name again, he was in the headlines for a few days, Trump, that’s it, Trump. Yesterday’s news.

Then I just found myself in the rather indelicate position of urinating and I glance through the window from our loo to my study and I see my laptop screen is waving at me. I follow the well worn path to geonet.org.nz and see there were two simultaneous earthquakes, a 5.9 and a 5.8, some forty seconds and thirty kilometers apart. Oops and here’s another as I’m typing, the table wobbles and as I’m sitting my legs feel it first and then the dog just padded in to get closer. I’ve checked of course, that was only 5.3, designated severe but I knew it was less than the ones 12 minutes earlier. And here’s another I’ve picked a good time to sit and write about the earthquake, I reckon that was around a 4.0, oh look at that I’m getting better at this game it was 4.2. My dog is a needy creature by nature but for the last couple of days he just won’t leave my side.

Up on real time GeoNet there have been thirty earthquakes listed in the last hour. Sure, here in Wellington I’ve only probably felt five of those in that period. But then as the crow flies I’m 50 or so kilometers from Seddon which is one of the two centre’s of the seismic activity at the moment, the other being Kaikoura which is closer to Christchurch and 150km’s away from here. The country was very lucky the activity was out there in the sticks and not in Wellington or downtown Christchurch. The February 2011 quake that killed 185 people was a shallow 6.3 on the Richter scale, Sunday nights’ was 7.5. Locality is one thing, timing another, during the day there could have been a passenger train full of overseas tourists under one of those landslides.

There are earthquakes happening all over the country though, in the last hour most of the thirty have been close to Seddon or Kaikoura though there have also been smaller ones in Taihape, Taupo and Timaru. Which is good for alliterative purposes if nothing else

Visiting Christchurch after their big earthquake I remember sensing the odd after shock and local friends would purse their lips and declare with some certainty whether it was a 4.2 or a 3.6 as though it was a car with a big motor that was passing. Inwardly I smiled. Without even trying, in two days, I’ve become that person.


So where was I just after midnight on Sunday evening when the earth moved. I was in bed of course. I’d had a couple of drinks, not that I intended to, but my wife was away and I’d been in the garden in the morning and then played tennis all afternoon and stayed at the club for a couple of beers and then I’d gone home and phoned my mate Bird who lives in Queenstown. He’d been at a corporate event and was enjoying a wine, so I joined him. He had a lot to say and listening can be thirsty work. By the time I’d had dinner and talked to another friend the bottle was nearly done and rather than take up fridge space I polished it off. I’m hoping my doctor won’t read this.

By this time it was not even ten-o-clock and I went to bed. My head touched the pillow and I was out. Well it didn’t seem long before I was up and very much with it. The bed was pogoing and the double glass doors of our wardrobe were bucking and banging and our old wooden house was having a good old shake. I jumped up and clung onto the door-frame. I turned National Radio on immediately and the presenter had the same issues, she was having trouble staying in her seat as she finished off the midnight news.

After the main event the aftershocks came through thick and fast and then there were talks of a tsunami and whether coastal people should evacuate which quite a few did. The local sirens were sounding but I chose to stay put as we’re a little elevated here. I offered my in-laws space if they needed it as they live on the flat closer to the sea, but I thought afterwards that that was pretty stupid as they wouldn’t have wanted to drive along the seafront to get here. It would kind of defeat the purpose of evacuation to be washed away getting to our house. We were very lucky, a few things that weren’t stuck down fell off shelves, but nothing broke.

Vicki McKay the radio presenter was stunning, on the graveyard shift with a few night workers, truck-drivers and insomniacs for company. She upped her game and did a fantastic job along with Susie Ferguson who rushed on in to help her out.


My first ever earthquake was in Mt Isa in Queensland in 1981. Except it wasn’t one. I had a rugby season out there when I was twenty and had an awful office job for the enormous mine there, they’d call it an internship these days, and at four in the afternoon on my first Tuesday in the office the whole building shook and I just about dived under the table. They were blasting underground of course and had “forgotten” to warn me. Great joke. And then on my first trip to Wellington in 1988 I did experience an earthquake, another awful office job on the 7th floor somewhere on Lambton Quay and this time I was able to be a bit more blasé, not as cool as my colleagues, but I didn’t dive under the desk. Now of course we’re encouraged to dive under desks and be turtles though I did read a new bit of advice today, well new to me. If you’re in bed, stay in bed and cover your head with a pillow, except if you’re at the office that is.

GeoNet advise that there is a small chance of a major earthquake as a consequence of the first one, more likely is a diminishing series of after shocks. The latter series will go on for months, if not years. In the last hour there have only been twenty-two, the strongest of which was a 4.2. So I’ve guessed we’ve settled again and here in the city of Wellington our lives will return to normality. For now.

In the meantime in Kaikoura and North Canterbury ordinary life will take a little longer. I know two couples close to Cheviot whose houses are write-offs and I read on GeoNet that there were approximately 100,000 land slips in the Kaikoura area. Yes you read that correctly. Not all of them are blocking rail tunnels or have pushed the rail tracks across the road into the sea – but some of them have. The NZ Navy will arrive in Kaikoura tomorrow, most of the tourists were evacuated by helicopter today. Power and water at the time of writing are still out for the 2000 residents. Making a living in that part of the world just got even harder.

Pete Carter is the author of This is Us. Due out in June 2020 it will be published by Exisle and tells the story of more than 200 New Zealanders in words and pictures. The book is really a portrait of the nation and how it is made up. Pete wrote Our Dog Benji a children’s book illustrated by his nephew, published by EK in 2017. He is also the author of two books of poetry. He has had magazine articles published and poetry in anthologies. As a photographer he has had two solo exhibitions and work included in group exhibitions in NZ and overseas and has sold work to and been commissioned by corporate clients.

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