On 14th November 2016, just after midnight, the picturesque coastal town of Kaikōura experienced a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that caused wide-reaching effects across the North and South Islands. Ruptures occurred on multiple faults and the earthquake has been described as the “most complex earthquake ever studied.”
Almost two years on and Kaikōura is very much open for business. The Kaikōura Museum recently launched a brand new long-term exhibition, “New Normal”, examining the impacts of the earthquake on the community, landscape and natural environment; so we decided to catch up with some of the town’s residents and business owners and discover how they have adapted to their own new normal.
Mayor Winston Gray
Mayor Gray believes that the town’s overall recovery has gone well, with the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, the Council team and other third-party bodies, such as Environment Canterbury, working together to rebuild local infrastructure. He also stresses that early support from the Crown, in terms of wage subsidies and business support, was a key success factor in underpinning the local economy post-earthquake.
As Mayor, his main priority now is to capture the opportunities that come out of adversity. He says, “Everybody wishes the earthquake had never happened, but it has focused many eyes upon us and we’re now working with investors who see real opportunities that will make Kaikōura an even better place to live, work and play.”
Asked what he has personally learned from being at the Council’s helm during and after a natural disaster of this scale, he says, “That we live in a nation of generous people, that local government is a large family across the nation, that central government cares and most importantly that Kaikōura is a strong community.”
Daniel Stevenson – CEO, Operations Manager and Owner – South Pacific Helicopters
South Pacific Helicopters played a significant role in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, carrying out inspection flights and evacuating both locals and visitors alike. Daniel relays how the business has been fortunate to be minimally affected by the earthquake. He says, “We have actually seen an increase in commercial work, leading to opportunities to expand our business.” He continues, “We appreciate others haven’t been as lucky, and so we have looked for more ways to become involved with our local community.”
As well as their partnership with Trees for Travellers, South Pacific Helicopters sponsor many community organisations, including local schools, the Lions Club fishing competition, the Kaikōura Fire Brigade, local dog trials, the Kaikoura A&P society, and the local rugby club.
The company launched their brand-new tour, the Aftershock Adventure, with locals in mind. Daniel says, “It’s a bird’s eye view that allows locals to witness the after-effects of the quake and, more importantly, the NCTIR efforts in restoring their beloved Kaikōura.”
Daniel believes that it’s important to look at the positives that come out of any tragedy, saying, “The earthquake has brought focus to our community, locals have learned to become more philosophical, I think we’re stronger and more resilient.”
Daniel & Sarah Jenkins – Owners – Kaikōura Cheese
Daniel and Sarah Jenkins had uprooted their young family and moved to Kaikōura following the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. Here, they realised their dreams of becoming cheese-making artisans. After winning several awards their business gained significant National recognition, doubling in size each year.
In the immediate aftermath of the Kaikōura earthquake, Sarah confesses that the temptation to move on crossed their minds very briefly, however the couple felt they had invested too much to just walk away. Sarah says, “It’s been tough, and we have struggled to stay on the map, but with the support of our staff, friends and family, we’ve kept our head above water, and we’re still here!”
Despite their business challenges, post-earthquake, Sarah says that the community spirit in Kaikōura, combined with the most beautiful seascapes and landscapes make it a very special place to live, work and play.
Mark Fissenden – Owner – Paperplus
Mark Fissenden faced immediate business challenges post-earthquake, with his shop yellow-stickered and out of action, his priority was to find a safe building from which to open again, he managed to do this just fourteen days after the earthquake. Since then Mark’s new normal has been adapted once more, as a key player behind the Kaikōura Uplift Hub, on the site of the old Adelphi Hotel.
The Uplift Hub, albeit a smaller version, is based upon Christchurch’s former Re:Start Mall, that was established following the 2011 earthquake. The Kaikōura Hub is home to three businesses, Paperplus, Gecko Gearz and Ocean Art, with three more businesses due to take up residence over the next few months.
Mark believes the real importance lies in the green space around the hub that, with its seating and giant games, has become a gathering point for locals and visitors alike. Mark says, “People attract people… Where some are laying on the grass eating an ice cream or enjoying fish and chips, others are sure to follow.” He continues, “It establishes a sense of community, and that fosters the premise of working together to make this small town a world class destination, and a great place for people to live, retire and raise a family.”
Doug O’Callahan – Owner and Organiser – Kaikōura Hop
Doug O’Callahan first established the Kaikōura Hop eight years ago. As a business owner Doug wanted to help bring more people to town over the winter months, so he combined that desire with his passion for cars, and the Hop was born.
An event that began with 77 cars registered to show, has over the years grown to showcase hundreds of classic vehicles. Sadly, the 2016 earthquake took its toll on attendance. Doug says, “People wanted to come to town, but with roads closed and a lack of accommodation and hospitality venues, the 2017 event was harder to sell.” Not one to be beaten, Doug’s new normal is to come back bigger and better for 2018. With a fantastic line-up of cars on display, the three-day event, (13th to 16th September), will also feature its usual mix of trade stalls, live music, Miss Hop pageant, rock and roll dancing and Drive in Movie, as well as a brand-new event, The Pit Stop Challenge.
Doug encourages, locals to support the Hop, saying, “The event brings tens of thousands of visitors to town, and all of them have money to spend, so let’s show them some good old Kaikōura hospitality, and let the good times roll!”
Stephanie Lange – Manager – Kaikōura Museum
The new Kaikōura Museum was due to open on the 18th November 2016. The earthquake set the opening back, but amazingly, by just five days. Stephanie credits this to good design and great planning, saying, “Because we were so far advanced in the planning for opening the new museum everything was fixed, fastened and secured in its final place so we fortunately sustained very little damage to our collection.”
Stephanie says, that like many other businesses in the town, her immediate challenge post-quake was a lack of visitors, “As an independent Museum we were planning to cover our costs through visitors paying an entry fee from day one. We were lucky to get grant funding and subsidies to help see us through the tough period which enabled us to get on with doing things for our community.”
It was a lotteries grant, that allowed for the planning and creation of an earthquake exhibition. New Normal, launched in December 2017. This main exhibition includes forty individual ‘mini exhibitions’ contributed by the Kaikōura Community that help to tell the many stories that have unfolded since the historic earthquake. Stephanie believes this has contributed to the region’s healing process, saying, “It was important that people had a chance to tell the stories that meant something to them.”
This exhibition has also helped to establish a new normal for the museum itself. With thousands of visitors to date, a recent survey highlighted it as a major drawcard for visitors. Stephanie believes that the museum and the exhibition has helped to contribute to a sense of community pride and establish Kaikōura as a place of connection where really cool stuff happens.
Kaikōura Museum recently won a national award for New Normal at the 2018 Museums Aotearoa awards. Find out more about the New Normal exhibition HERE.
Vanessa Chambers – Administration and Operations Manager – Seal Swim Kaikōura
With over thirty years in operation, it’s not surprising that Seal Swim Kaikōura has built a band of loyal followers from around the world. Visitors have flocked to take part in the totally unique experience of seal swimming with New Zealand Fur Seals in their own spectacular marine environment on the beautiful East Coast of the South Island.
There was no doubt that the 2016 earthquake was going to affect the operation, and Vanessa is the first to admit that the dark days post-quake were both exhausting and worrying. She says, “I can remember well-meaning people assuring me that everything was going to be okay. Although, I would smile and agree with them, on the inside I was wondering how it would ever be okay again.” Almost two years on and Seal Swim Kaikōura has, like the town itself, made an astounding recovery. Vanessa says, “I believe we were fortunate that our business was well established and very unique. Nature lovers are always nature lovers.”
At this time of year, the fur seals spend more time on the rocks and less time in the water, but that doesn’t mean it’s tools down for Vanessa, who is building up to the summer season. She expects visitor numbers to continue to rise for 2018/19, especially as the operation was recently listed by Lonely Planet as one of the Top Ten Best Marine Encounters Worldwide.
Asked what she has personally learned from steering Seal Swim Kaikōura through the earthquake recovery process, Vanessa replies, “I’ve learned how much I love what I do, and how much I love this little community.”