Poetry Month, April 2018: Christchurch and Lyttelton, New Zealand; 5 Poems; Pre- and Post-Earthquake

Updated on September 15, 2018
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Ann loves to write poetry and stories. Current poetry on Nature, Travel & beyond, including varied poetic structures.

City of Christchurch

Settled on the edge of the Canterbury Plain with a background of the Port Hills, this city was a pretty, tranquil spot on the River Avon. Its Cathedral was the unmistakable emblem of Christchurch, with its delicate brickwork and elegant tower.

A short distance from the city are sandy beaches, resorts and, through a tunnel under the Port Hills, the thriving port of Lyttelton, a historic town of weatherboarded houses, family shops and chandlers. It is on the north-western end of Banks Peninsula. Hilly, wide streets look out over the natural harbour, across to stunning scenery of estuary, bays and hills.

Then came the earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011. Though not as strong as the September quake, February 2011’s occurred on a shallow fault line, close to the city, near Lyttelton and so caused much more damage, further described below.

Going back there in December 2017 to spend a month or so with family, we could see the aftermath of destruction, reminders of lives lost and the empty plots where people’s houses once sheltered happy families surrounded by well-kempt gardens. Seven years on, there is still much to be done and many are still waiting for insurance pay-outs, rebuilds or extensive repairs. The sadness is palpable but stoicism wins through.

I was most shocked by the difference in Cathedral Square, having seen in the 2009 New Year there and going back in December to find a ruined cathedral, scaffolding shoring up that and many other buildings, and an oppressive air of emptiness and loss.

Tributes to the dead, injured and affected are evident throughout the city, in forms of graffiti, sculptures, paintings and parts of broken buildings coloured to camouflage the destruction.

Christchurch Cathedral before Earthquake

Elegant emblem of Christchurch
Elegant emblem of Christchurch | Source

Cathedral as we saw it after part Demolition

Sad sight, though some of the pretty patterned roof remains
Sad sight, though some of the pretty patterned roof remains | Source

Crumbling Christchurch Cathedral

Immaculate structure reaching to the heavens,

admired the world over for its grace and elegance,

now debased, torn, scattered in piles

through earth-scraping shock, sacredness defiled.

Cream and grey, delicate balance,

thrown to the depths, gaping through, plunging down,

liquefaction swirls, hides pitfalls,

scaffold tries to uphold, enthralled.

What do we do, faced with such pain?

Just a building? No, emotional strain.

Built to glorify God, to be uplifting,

now torn apart, forbidden, drifting.

Sometime this will follow the Phoenix,

rise from the ashes, re-meld the bricks,

then the spire, again reaching high,

will point to heaven, pierce clouds to blue sky.

Port Hills

Port Hills between Christchurch & Lyttelton
Port Hills between Christchurch & Lyttelton | Source

Empty Plots

Houses once stood here, now vanished,

sheltered mothers, fathers, cherished

all within them, safe from storms,

until the quakes came, changed all form.

Now we see the green grass covering

hints of gardens, rose-bushed, staring

back as our intruders’ eyes

trespass, hearing past owners’ cries.

Driveways gape, uneven, broken,

torn by quake into thoughts unspoken.

Who can say what the families feel?

Do they pass by, do they reel

thinking of a happy past,

reliving the day when, noisy and fast,

the ground heaved up and spewed up rubbish

leaving a landscape dead and ravished?

Many have left, unable to face

remaining in such a dangerous place,

or so it seems, but who can blame them?

Another life, away, might calm them.

One day they’ll rebuild the homes,

safer structures for when quakes come,

for come they will but all will be wiser,

instead of surprise, the future’s finer.

Empty plots will fill with joy,

grass will be covered with homes and toys.

Families with hope will belay fear

and live in safety far down the years.

Emptiness in place of Homes

Driveways to Nowhere
Driveways to Nowhere | Source


Epicentre of earthquake emerged close by,

people ran and people cried.

Buildings fell, some just lop-sided,

people helped each other.

Shops and theatre, cafés and homes,

trembled whilst the earth did foam

with liquefaction deadly, the dome

of hills provided shelter.

Structures built on solid rock were firm,

though others fared less well in turn.

Ships in port, though, rode the storm,

provided food and succour.

Connecting tunnel, down for two days,

quickly repaired to clear the way

for help and supplies to fast allay

the fears of all affected.

Now the land where an edifice stood

merely bares a picture of wood,

showing what was once a good

and sturdy place to work.

Inhabitants walk, heads held proud and high,

knowing that these times will pass by,

that all will heal and they’ll no more cry,

the future can be rosy.

Lyttelton's Buildings

Shored-up with Girders
Shored-up with Girders | Source
Beautiful Building once stood here
Beautiful Building once stood here | Source

New Zealand Antarctic Expeditions and Research

The inscription on the Sled Dog statue (below) reads:

'New Zealand Antarctic Society Sculptor - Mark Whyte 2016:

This statue celebrates the contribution of Lyttelton to exploration in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The sled Dog symbolises the courage, commitment and comradeship of all those involved in this continuing endeavour.’

The dog's nose points to the training and research centre, across from Lyttelton, from where expeditions set out to Antarctica, with their sled dogs.

Sled Dog

Faithful dogs trained for the Antarctic,

setting out from across the bay,

faithful to their exploring owners,

trained to help along the way.

New Zealand Antarctic Society members,

dedicated to research miles away,

risking life and limb to find out

what the ice and cold could say.

Brave men and brave dogs they were,

facing hardships and cruel weather.

Still these days the work continues,

monitoring conditions and temperature.

We should celebrate such devotion,

for without them what would we know?

All corners of the earth need attention,

under water, heat, or snow.

Sled Dog Statue

Sled Dog, Explorers' Faithful Friend
Sled Dog, Explorers' Faithful Friend | Source


A chair for each one the earthquake took;

just pass by and take a look.

Far more impact than a list in a book,

this sight just makes you cry.

White for purity and innocence,

helplessness, just there by chance,

all shapes and sizes at a glance,

working or passing by.

Armchairs, soft chairs, sun-bed open,

baby’s high-chair, bar-stool chosen,

no regard for age, all frozen

in that time of death.

There they remain in ethereal grace,

reminding us of each’s face,

changing for ever this stricken place,

gone but leaving breath.

For they remain in others’ hearts,

their stars will shine and love impart,

they still exist in living art,

as long as we remember.

Ethereal White Chairs

One Chair Each on a Corner in Christchurch
One Chair Each on a Corner in Christchurch | Source

An Account of the Earthquakes

Taken from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/christchurch-earthquake-kills-185:

‘At 12.51 p.m. on Tuesday 22 February 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake caused severe damage in Christchurch and Lyttelton, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand.

The earthquake’s epicentre was near Lyttelton, just 10 km southeast of Christchurch’s central business district. It occurred nearly six months after the 4 September 2010 earthquake.

The earthquake struck at lunchtime, when many people were on the city streets. More than 130 people lost their lives in the collapse of the Canterbury Television and Pyne Gould Corporation buildings. Falling bricks and masonry killed 11 people, and eight died in two city buses crushed by crumbling walls. Rock cliffs collapsed in the Sumner and Redcliffs area, and boulders tumbled down the Port Hills, with five people killed by falling rocks.

Although not as powerful as the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on 4 September 2010, this earthquake occurred on a shallow fault line that was close to the city, so the shaking was particularly destructive.

The earthquake brought down many buildings damaged the previous September, especially older brick and mortar buildings. Heritage buildings suffered heavy damage, including the Provincial Council Chambers, Lyttelton’s Timeball Station, the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral and the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. More than half of the buildings in the central business district have since been demolished, including the city’s tallest building, the Hotel Grand Chancellor.

Liquefaction was much more extensive than in September 2010. Shaking turned water-saturated layers of sand and silt beneath the surface into sludge that squirted upwards through cracks. Thick layers of silt covered properties and streets, and water and sewage from broken pipes flooded streets. House foundations cracked and buckled, wrecking many homes. Irreparable damage led to the demolition of several thousand homes, and large tracts of suburban land were subsequently abandoned.

The government declared a national state of emergency the day after the quake. Authorities quickly cordoned off Christchurch’s central business district. The cordon remained in place in some areas until June 2013. Power companies restored electricity to 75 per cent of the city within three days, but re-establishing water supplies and sewerage systems took much longer.’

© 2018 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 months ago from SW England

      Thanks, Peggy, for your comment today. Yes, Christchurch was indeed beautiful and will never be the same. The city centre has changed beyond all recognition. More has been done since these pictures were taken but there is still so much to do. Some people are still waiting for insurance work to kick in too.

      Like the situation in the world at the moment, people pull together in times of crisis and we see the best side of many.

      Keep safe and well.


    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Christchurch was so beautiful. Reading about the loss of life and property made me feel sad. Tragedies like this can alter a site for years. That memorial of the chairs is poignant. It reminds me of the one in Oklahoma City that happened years ago by a home-grown terrorist who set off bombs, killing many people, including children. That memorial also uses chairs representing every life that was lost.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks for the details, Lawrence.


    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      It was partly because the old building wasn't earthquake proof (no one knew Christchurch was on a fault line) so people panicked and it didn't register that the Cathedral could be earthquake 'proofed'

      They've got the go ahead to do it and 'quakeproof' the building. They basically put steel rods through the structure to make it flexible and I think the Anglican church didn't want to be stuck with a huge bill and no one using the Cathedral.

      In the Kaikoura quake we even had buildings in Hamilton suffered damage, and we're four hundred miles from it.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you Lawrence, for your kind comment and for the update.

      Family there told us about the Kaikoura quake and slip which blocked the road - they go up to the north for holidays and love it up there. It takes such a long time, doesn't it, to repair such damage as there is so much involved.

      We also heard that finally the 'restorers' had got their way regarding the cathedral but such was the scepticism that they'll believe it when they see it - shame it's been such a contentious issue for so long. I never understood why they wouldn't restore such a beautiful and important building - it's the iconic emblem of Christchurch and New Zealand.

      Your visit is much appreciated, Lawrence. I hope the rebuilding continues and things improve quickly. Your country is so wonderful and so are the people.


    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      A beautiful tribute to the poems

      Just to bring people 'up to date' those who want to restore the Cathedral have finally got their way, it will be restored, and it'll be private funds paying for the restoration.

      By the way, a year ago Canterbury was rocked by a bigger quake (7.3) in Kaikoura just north of Christchurch, the place was so badly hit the only way in was by sea, but the rebuild goes on, we will rebuild.

      NZ's nickname is 'The shaky isles' but we love it here and feel so blessed to live here.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Dora. It's amazing how resilient people can be. Hope is uppermost and sees them through.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Flourish, for your great comment. I appreciate your support.


    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      What a difference an earthquake makes! Thanks for the comfort and hope expressed in the poems.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 years ago from USA

      You certainly did the topic justice with the depth and variety of your poems. My favorites were the first and the chair poem.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      That's a lovely compliment, Gypsy; thank you very much! There is a sense of hope there but also frustration that things are taking so long.

      Thanks for popping by.


    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      2 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      A hub of sadness, hope, and love for all. The poetry is wonderful and you took me on an amazing poetic journey.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Carrie, for your lovely comment. I was trying to get some hope and love into it; fortunately, people seem to have come together but the authorities are woefully slow and inefficient!

      Your visit is much appreciated.


    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 

      2 years ago from Northeast United States

      Powerful hub. Very very glorious poetry, very sad yet in the poem I could feel hope and love.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Nithya, thank you very much. Lovely to see you today.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Frank. I must admit the chairs made a strong impression on me as I first saw them when driving past. Simple but effective.

      Hope your April is going swimmingly too. I have only 4 days left to write 11 poems.. aaaghhh!


    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      2 years ago from Dubai

      Your poems potrays the devastation of the earthquake. Nature can wreak havoc and reduce beautiful places to sheer nothing. Great work as always.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      2 years ago from Shelton

      Ann, again wonderful collection of poetry.. and I agree with Hari.. about emergencies bind people together.. really loved the chairs poem the most if I had to choose a favorite... thanks for sharing and Happy April to you..:)

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, hari. Yes, you're right that some families and friends become closer to help the healing process but many families in Christchurch have been split because of losing their houses and through the trauma of it all.

      I appreciate you reading and commenting.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Chris, for such a generous comment. I wanted to get the human element into it, as in the end that's the most important angle.

      Have a great weekend!


    • manatita44 profile image


      2 years ago from london

      Year. It was pretty devastating. We are an international group and we still have members there, so we helped a lot. You do chose your settings for poetry and yes, you travel like me. I lived in Auckland for 12 months and of course visited the South.

      Great but poignant poetry!

    • shprd74 profile image

      Hari Prasad S 

      2 years ago from Bangalore

      Very emotional stuff. Amazing work ann.

      Earthquakes have a positive effect too, they bind the crakes among people and work together to rebuild whats lost.

      - hari

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      2 years ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Ann, what a history lesson you've given us in narration and poetry. You have created five solid, meaningful poems that show the physical destruction as well as the emotional devastation. Awesome hub, Ann.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Hello Mary! Yes, I suppose there's a bit of pot luck as to where it strikes and where your house is, what it's built on, etc. Those on the Port Hills, on solid rock, fared better than many. The white chairs caught me by surprise and raised a tear; they say so much and people fall silent as they pass by.

      Thanks for your visit today; much appreciated.


    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      We remembered this quite well as we have friends living there. Luckily, their house was built on rock so there was little damage. Those white chairs are very compelling.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Oh yes, Eric! The elements are certainly vengeful at times. We have to respect them or perish I think.

      Thank you for your great input, as always. I appreciate you very much.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Elijah A Alexander Jr: Thank you very much for your visit and your kind comment.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, bill! I can only imagine what it must be like as I've never experienced more than a tremor. Being there and listening to the stories gave me a better idea but that's all. It's the aftermath that seems to be as bad as the quake itself; all that reparation and angst of getting things back to some sort of semblance of normality must be exhausting.

      Thanks for your continuing support, bill. You have no idea how much I appreciate you.

      Enjoy your weekend!


    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      This is a really fine piece although that sadness comes through in your work. Amazing fact about insurance being so delayed. Nature sure can have a wrath.

    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      2 years ago from Washington DC

      A well written work of art explaining the aftermath of those New Zealand earth quakes. I knew about them but didn't know the amount of damage, Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Unless you've been in a major earthquake, there is no way to fully appreciate the fear and helplessness that is felt. There is nowhere to hide when the ground is shaking and the buildings are crumbling. I've been through two major earthquakes and I would be quite happy if I never experience another...but we are overdue!

      As always, topnotch work here, Ann!



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