CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – to go or not to go?

Photo: John Kirk-Anderson, The Press

I can’t not write about this, because I was booked to spend a pleasant day sightseeing in Christchurch the week after next. My travel-writing trip was organised months ago, with adventures on the North Island, cycling round the South Island, and a short stop-over in quiet, pretty Christchurch before flying home.

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.


Filed under New Zealand

16 responses to “CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – to go or not to go?

  1. angela highstead

    Go Richard. Businesses will be hurting and the tourist dollar will build them up. I returned from Egypt at the end of Dec. 2010 and felt very sad at the subsequent upheaval. I was very aware while there how dependent they are on the tourist dollar. And glad to hear that folk are returning to Egypt.

    Like us the N.Zealanders are a resilient, tough mob and they will be getting on with the rebuilding alongside their grief.

  2. I’d say go too. It’s not much, but every tourist dollar will help.

    I felt weird just traveling around the North Island in January (we hadn’t planned to visit the South Island) and I’m sure with closer proximity in time and space it will seem even more strange, but life does go on despite awful things happening.

  3. bagnidilucca

    Just like in Brisbane after the floods, the best way to help is to go and spend money there. If we stay away it makes things worse. I have been watching BBC World where Libya and NZ have been the only 2 stories.

  4. michael

    I agree with everyone else – go. I’ve also been watching it on the Beeb. What comes across is that the Kiwis are gutsy & pragmatic. Some good, positive media coverage will help with recovery – after all, the devastation is fairly localised, & not far from Christchurch things will be fully functional.

  5. Thanks Angela, Mim (so nice to hear from you again), BdL and Michael.

    I was very excited about going back to NZ after a year or so, and the planned adventures sound particularly good. I’m determined to go if at all possible.

    As you say, visitors will only help the recovery, as long as we don’t get in anybody’s way, and it remains one of the world’s greatest countries for outdoor pursuits.

    The disaster can’t be ignored however and even though I don’t know anybody directly affected it will become more and more distressing as personal stories emerge.

  6. Janet Hollow

    I have been saddened at the terrible events unfolding in Christchurch. After some time in the planning I finally booked flights form my partner son and I to visit the South Island (touring down south ) flying in and out of Christchurch. I feel the same way I dont want to go if they feel we are there and in the way but in the same breathe dont want to cancel because I want to support them as well.
    What do I do? Sadly our trip is to commence on the 14th March isthis to soon? I was going to email the accomodation in Christchurch and offer to cancel it they need it for the workers that are there to help.
    What do you suggest

    • Janet, we would hope and expect that by March 14th the airport would be operating normally. It was closed yesterday, but I understand it reopened today, mostly for people to fly out, so there can’t be any serious structural damage. It sounds a good idea to offer to cancel your accommodation if others need it, though I would guess that in a week or two they will have that under control too. If not, there are lots of other accommodation options just out of town from Christchurch and it is in a fabulous part of a country, very well organised for tourists.

      I’m sure you will have a great trip and meet wonderful resilient people. I’m sure I will too.

  7. Go Richard. They’re a tough mob on the Shaky Isles and they’ll welcome you warmly. And the damage is in the area of Christchurch and not on the other vast areas of the South Islands. Kiwi Euan agrees!

  8. Good post Richard about a real dilemma. It’s right to feel some guilt about travelling when others are suffering from such tragedy, it shows you are compassionate. I’m sure the rest of NZ feels the same way – some guilt at carrying on as normal when Christchurch is hurting so badly.
    But staying away will only hurt the country as a whole. Travel sensitively and you will be doing NZ a favour (I say as a Sydney-resident kiwi). Have a great trip!

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Kiwi Briar and Kiwi Euan above. I’m certainly planning to go now, but just how the Christchurch part of the trip will work out remains to be seen.

      I understand such hotel accommodation as is available is quite rightly being reserved for rescue workers and homeless Christchurch residents.

      Any slight inconvenience this may cause me is nothing compared to theirs.

  9. Will do, Briar. Tourism NZ have been very helpful in organising the trip, though they must be flat out with other matters at the moment.

  10. Robyn

    Hi Richard

    As I have sat here tonight these questions have been going over and over in my mind too, with my stomach churning along as well! Living in Dalby where we are recovering from 5 floods since December 19, we have been looking forward to our trip to the South Island, landing in Christchurch on March 5, and just getting away from the stresses of life and the recent weather events of Queensland.

    With the devastation in that beautiful city and surrounds, do we continue on with our trip now or postpone? We don’t want to be in the way or to be seen to be “sticky beaks” but is it the wise thing to do to go??

    Am feeling quite sad and confused!

    • Robyn, I’m guessing that as soon after the floods as Dalby was able to accommodate visitors, they would have been warmly welcomed.

      If, as you say, we are not in the way or sticky-beaking, people of the region will need our tourist dollars as soon as we are willing to spend them.

      The last thing a region so dependent on tourism needs is a collapse of that business, though that is likely in the short term of course.

      We know that our pleasant NZ holidays will be marred by constant reminders of the tragedy, and there may be some inconvenience, but I for one have decided to go there unless I’m told by the locals to postpone the trip.

  11. Thank you Richard and all of you for these thoughts.
    YES, we are welcoming any visitors to our amazing region and YES we need you!

    I am French but have made Christchurch my home for the last 5 years. Christchurch has an incredible backyard that is well worth a visit and I would really like to hear from you Richard, Janet, Robyn… How was your trip? What did you think of the stunning landscapes and amazing kiwi hospitality?

    I have been promoting tourism in the Canterbury region for a few years and can only say thank you for those of you who will come and visit us… or should i say “MERCI”!


    • Thanks for the comment, Cecile,

      I was in Christchurch yesterday after a fantastic holiday in NZ, and while it was distressing to see the damage in town, I was very pleased I went there, I was made to feel very welcome and I hope the little money I spent there helps too.

      Unsurprisingly, it was inspiring to see Cantabrians quietly getting on with things.

      Merci a vous aussi!

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