Along with all Australians, I’ve been watching in dismay as the Christchurch earthquake tragedy unfolds. We’re supposed to have a rivalry with the Kiwis, but it’s a country we love and we have many New Zealand friends. It’s not right or fair, but it’s only natural that Australians should empathise with New Zealanders even more strongly than with victims of tragedies in farther-flung parts of the world.
My immediate dilemma is – should I still go ahead with my trip? I’m not concerned about safety. New Zealand has not suddenly become more dangerous. We’ve just been reminded that the planet is not as stable as we would like, and that the Shaky Isles may be more volatile than other places. Native New Zealanders, like residents of Tokyo, San Francisco and even Sydney, understand that they live above large cracks and that The Big One will come, inevitably, some day. They just hope it won’t happen while they’re around. Short term visitors take a punt on not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But would it be heartless and insensitive to be doing jolly travel things while not far away others are sifting through rubble and mourning lost family and friends? Will we be able to enjoy anything in New Zealand without feeling pangs of guilt? Of course the scenes from Christchurch will put a major damper on proceedings, but if we want to help, continuing to travel in the region is one useful thing we can do.
Two years ago my Dutch friends planned a hike through Italy’s Arbruzzo region, which was hit by an earthquake shortly before they were due to arrive there. Hundreds died and the centre of the town of l’Aquila was destroyed. After much soul-searching, they decided to proceed with the trip as planned, despite difficulties caused by damaged infrastructure and communication lines.
They were very pleased they did. Facilities in wrecked hotels were sometimes makeshift, but they were made to feel very welcome. Tourism operators in the region had suffered an almost complete loss of business, and were delighted to have any paying customers at all.
The sad fact is that on top of the tragic human cost, this disaster will put a substantial dent in New Zealand’s travel industry for some time. Obviously facilities in and around Christchurch at the moment must be reserved for those involved in the rescue effort. But as soon as our friends are recovered enough to want visitors returning, we should be there.