Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Week in the Pacific

"Pacific" seems a very appropriate name for the spot we spent our holiday, given its meaning. We didn't plan our holiday as an escape from the earthquake aftermath, but it was certainly well-timed coming when it did.

Norfolk Island is an interesting little island and it helped put a few things in perspective. It is halfway between New Zealand and New Caledonia, about an hour and three quarters' flight from Auckland (which is an hour and twenty minutes from Christchurch) - closer to New Zealand than Australia, although it is actually a territory of Australia. It has a population of 1800, swelled another 1000 by tourists at peak times. When we were there, we spotted a sign in the Westpac bank stating there were 495 visitors on the island. With only a few plane loads arriving each week, I guess it is an easy matter to count up the arrival and departure cards and do an exact count. No real need for a census, then!

It was populated early on by Polynesian people, who left for unknown reasons. In 1788 it was resettled as a convict settlement - which was closed down in the early 1800s. Another convict settlement followed in 1825 (also closed down). And then in 1856 the island was given by Queen Victoria to the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, when their original home, Pitcairn Island, became overcrowded. About 40% of the inhabitants today are descendants of the Pitcairners. Surnames like Christian, Adams, Qunital, Nobbs are so common that the phone book lists people by their nicknames as well as their actual names. The owner of our accommodation was a descendant of Fletcher Christian - as was another woman we met on our introductory tour of the island.

In Christchurch after the September earthquake there were empty shelves at the supermarkets. The distribution centres in the west of the city had been damaged and goods had to be trucked in directly, which led to delays when stocks ran out. This time round, there were not so many empty shelves as the distribution centres were undamaged - the west being mostly unscathed this time. But there were occasional shortages, and runs on emergency supplies like bottled water, baby supplies and so on. Some supermarkets - the ones that were actually open - had limits on various items.

In Norfolk I was surprised to find quite a large number of items were "temporarily out of stock" at the supermarket. (Only two small supermarkets on the island). I was also taken aback slightly by the prices - about double those of New Zealand or Australia. Everything is either air freighted in or shipped, so it is expensive. We bought fresh milk the first day we were there, and when I went back for more later in the week, they were almost out. That's when I realised that it was a New Zealand brand, and there is one flight from New Zealand a week - so, fresh milk once a week. The rest of the time there is UHT milk in cartons. The whole island is one big cow paddock, but they are beef cattle, and there is no dairy industry. The fruit and vegetables on the other hand are all local and seasonal, apart from potatoes and onions. Apart from cost, strict biosecurity regulations are the reason for the lack of fresh produce imports. This meant that the range available was much more limited than we are used to - and again, it was expensive. With the exception of oranges, which were free from the tree outside the door of our accommodation! (There was also a fig tree - just finishing its season - and a pawpaw tree - its fruit not yet ripe).

Electricity on the island is diesel generated and about four times the cost that it is in New Zealand. So all ovens are gas, and there are no air conditioners. I am used to hand washing dishes, so it was halfway through the week before it suddenly occurred to me that there was no dishwasher in the unit, which would be most unusual for four-star accommodation anywhere else.

So - adequate enough accommodation, but not really luxury, except that it felt like utter luxury to have hot showers with uncontaminated water, to wash dishes without first having to boil the water, and to have access to a swimming pool - outdoor and unheated, but comfortably warm from the sun. There is nowhere in Christchurch to swim at the moment as the pools are all damaged (our main Olympic pool has sunk a metre) and the beaches are contaminated by sewage flowing from damaged pipes.

Of course it also helped that the people are friendly, the island beautiful, the climate temperate and the local fish absolutely delicious.

Photos to follow, and also some more earthquake updates, but I have had too many late nights this week catching up, so will now head to bed.

1 comment:

Leonie Wise said...

I really enjoy reading about your forays. Always very informative. I'm glad you had a wee break from the city. I can't imagine what it must be like to be living in Christchurch right now!