In my last post, I described the first part of a walk I did some time ago, following the line of the Wellington Fault from the harbour, through the CBD and the Zealandia bird sanctuary. I walked the second part of my faultline walk later that summer, tracing the faultline from Zealandia to Cook Strait.
To get to my starting point, I climb Wright’s Hill in Karori and walk round the outside of the Zealandia fenceline. From here, the faultline runs down through Long Gully. Long Gully is on private land (I rang the owners for permission to walk along it), and I’m not quite sure how to get to it. I follow the fenceline to where my previous walk ended on the other side of the Zealandia fence, and then take a little path which leads to a wide clay road.
I’ve been hearing a constant squealing of tyres and I’m feeling a bit nervous about walking along this road. Is there some car rally circuit going on over the hills of Karori? But as I climb a little way up the road keeping well to the edge, I realise that the source of the noise is coming from a hilltop across a small valley. Two cars are doing handbrake turns on a drift strip, watched by a handful of spectators. From this distance, the cars look graceful, almost balletic. I’m amazed that two cars can make so much noise.
I carry on up the dirt track, watched by a family of goats perched on a ledge and shortly afterwards, come to a track that I recognise as leading to Hawkins Hill and the radome. This isn’t where I want to be. I have another look at my map. I can see that I need to pass an airstrip, but I can’t see any sign of one. Then the penny drops: the long strip of flat land on the hill top that the cars are skidding about on must be the airstrip. I turn and walk back the other way, around the edge of the valley and up towards the drift strip. The air is heavy with the smell of burning rubber as I approach, and the sound of squealing tyres and beefed-up exhausts grows louder. More cars are parked by the drift strip, with groups of mainly lads in black t-shirts and baseball caps standing around. It seems to be quite a social gathering up here in the hills and no one takes any notice of me.
I don’t know anything about the origins of the airstrip, but my guess is that it might have been used during WWII to supply the coastal defences that watched over Cook Strait. There would have been no room for error, landing in such steep terrain, and the frequent wild weather and low cloud in these hills would not have helped.
The imaginatively-named Long Gully, as might be expected, is long. The dirt road undulates gently, but always straight, lined by pylons. A stream runs below the road. The hills on either side are rough rock, covered in gorse and manuka. There are goats everywhere, watching me with insolent devil eyes, silky beards tugged by the breeze. A fallow deer leaps gracefully up a bank and disappears into the scrub. The scream of tyres gradually recedes as I walk further away from the drift strip. It could be a boring walk, but I’m enjoying the softness of the dust underfoot and the gradual rise toward the promise of a distant horizon.
It’s odd to think that about 30kms beneath my feet, two tectonic plates are slowly grinding against each other. I quite like the perspective it gives me, to think that a relatively minor movement in the earth’s crust can cause so much havoc to our little civilisation clinging to the surface of the land.
Recent research found that the 1855 earthquake on the Wairarapa fault de-stressed the Wellington Fault and there is less likelihood of a major quake on this fault in the near future than previously thought. However, there are plenty of other faults that can cause quakes in the region, as evidenced recently.
Despite the work of modern science on mapping faults and coming up with earthquake probabilities, there are still a huge number of unknowns. Earthquakes remain unpredictable, just as they were for early European settlers, or for Māori, who believed earthquakes were caused by the god Rūaumoko, the son of Ranginui (the Sky) and Paptūānuku (the Earth), as he walked about below the Earth; or by taniwha (dragon-like monsters).
It’s the unpredictability of earthquakes that I find difficult. While, I’ve stayed fairly calm during the (albeit relatively small) earthquakes I’ve experienced, I feel anxious and edgy afterwards. I imagine the ground is moving when it isn’t. It’s not so much the quake itself, but the fear that there might be more and bigger ones on the way.
Earthquakes violate the notion of solid ground. I can relate to Lt Morton Jones, a witness to the 1855 earthquake, who wrote that the quake was: ‘accompanied by a sickening sensation and an idea of general instability and the insecurity of everything which we had ever before regarded as solid and immovable. The conviction of the insecurity of one’s possessions, the uncertainty of one’s best laid plans, the fundamental nature of the ties which connect us to the world’.
The road divides into several options at the end of the gully. On one side of the road, I’m watched by more deer. On the other, is a stagnant pond with a kayak next to it. The topo map isn’t helpful, so I take the track that goes high to get a sense of where to go. At the top, I can see the sea, perfect and turquoise, and a long way below. The mountains of the South Island are shadowy against the horizon.
I follow the track down past a bach perched over a steep drop. A little further down the track, a group of excitable chickens starts following me. I pick up my pace to avoid getting my ankles pecked. The track winds its way downhill, past a couple more baches. I’m exhilarated by the grand sweep of the cliffs and the sea below, shifting from light to darker and deeper waters, the curve of the grey beaches, the white foam of the waves. Jagged rocks break the surface of the water.
At a bend in the track there’s a huge rusty anchor with a couple of plaques beside it. I stop to read the plaques, expecting them to be memorials for shipwrecks, but they are two verses from the Bible about storms. It seems apt, because suddenly the wind, which I’d barely noticed up to now, is so strong that I can hardly stand. A plaque on the back of the stone commemorates Neil Hutchison Cardno, who died in 2004.
A line of trailbikes is making its way up the hill. I wait for them to pass and then carry on downhill. At the bottom of the track, there’s a group of high-axle 4WDs, speeding along the beach in a hail of pebbles. I’m in a world of Saturday afternoon motorsports.
I’m now at the end of the faultline, at least as it passes through Wellington. From here it disappears into the waters of Cook Strait.
I walk along beside the sea towards Owhiro Bay and sit down on a flat rock for a snack. I’m surrounded by still pools full of shells. The ground is carpeted with bright green succulents and strips of rust-coloured seaweed. Huge waves crash beyond jagged rocks. The colours are strange and beautiful. After a while, I realise I am being bitten by huge mosquito-like insects. They’ve even gone through my shirt, and through my socks. It seems apt that there should be something evil lurking among colours too bright to be natural. I carry on, battered by the wind but exhilarated by the constant boom of surf, towards Owhiro Bay and on to Island Bay to catch my bus home.
Grapes R (2000) Magnitude 8 Plus: New Zealand’s biggest earthquake