If it were not for the Christchurch earthquake five years earlier, the Kaikoura quake - a year ago this coming Tuesday - would have shaken the national consciousness more than perhaps it has. At magnitude 7.8 the quake that hit the Kaikoura district just after midnight on November 14 last year, was even stronger than the Canterbury earthquake and hit the residents in the same way.
They remember a sound like an onrushing train before it hit them with a force that threw people out of beds, across rooms, buckled buildings, roads and railway lines, sheared farm land, caused massive slips on hillsides and raised the seabed. Like the first Canterbury quake, it stuck in darkness. Shaken people had to wait for daylight to see the full extent of the damage.
When something like this happens to a city, the victims know the whole country is aware of their hardships and following the progress of their recovery. When it happens to a small town, the residents can easily feel alone and forgotten. That is one reason this anniversary should be nationally observed and the resilience of small communities widely admired.
"It's a rural mindset, a Waiau man told our reporter Kurt Bayer in the feature we publish today, "You suck it up and move on." Waiau in North Canterbury, on the epicentre of the quake, was hit even harder than Kaikoura. Many of its houses were destroyed and most of its public buildings are still out of commission. Rural centres often struggle to keep population and professional and commercial services at the best of times. An earthquake of this magnitude could be the end of them. But no such talk is reported from Waiau, population 300.
Kaikoura, on the celebrated coast, is much better known nationally. The spectacular road and railway close to the sea were memorable stretches of a journey south. It has taken the best part of the year to clear the landslips that fell on the road and railway. SH1 north of Kaikoura is not be reopened for traffic on December 15 but even then, there will still be unsealed sections and continuing roadworks will hold up traffic. The drive from Picton to Christchurch is expected to take at least five and a half hours.
For Kaikoura, though, a restored through-route will mean survival. For a year the town has been at the end of a long road from Christchurch, a long way for tourists to go for whale watching and crayfish. Today, we report, main street remains eerily quiet with locals on errands and road workers in high-vis vests outnumbering visitors. Hopefully that will change after the road opens next month.
Two earthquakes above magnitude 7 within this decade underlines how prone we are. The relatively quiet 80 years between Napier, 1931, and Christchurch, 2011, allowed us almost to forget we live on a boundary of tectonic plates. It crosses from the North Island's east coast to the South Island's west coast through southern Marlborough. Those are the more vulnerable regions but no part of the country can afford to be complacent.
Buildings should be brought up to modern seismic standards as soon as reasonably possible and all New Zealanders should know what to do in a big quake.Their anniversaries are a good reminder of how hard it can be to recover.