Earthquake damage to state highway one near Ohau Point following the Kaikōura earthquake in November 2016 (Photo: MARK MITCHELL/AFP/Getty Images)

Another kind of isolation: Reflecting on a quake-induced lockdown

New Zealand moved into level two on Thursday, bringing on unexpected, overwhelming feelings for many of us. Kate Hicks has lived through this before.

As we’ve navigated Aotearoa’s wild and unexpected lockdown, I, like others, have enlisted a few coping strategies: Skyping with friends, watching crap TV, consuming copious amounts of coffee and chocolate (though, to be honest, as a full-time mum that’s a regular occurrence). Since being slung into the Covid-19 deep end five weeks ago, we’ve adapted, created a new normal and got on with it.

These five weeks, cut off from physically connecting with the people and places we know and love, has reminded me, vividly, of my time following the Kaikōura earthquake.

We were living in an incredibly beautiful, and reasonably remote, high-country station. My partner, our eight-month-old, my visiting mum and me. There was 40 minutes of scenic dirt road between town and home. In a matter of a couple of minutes, our access to the outside world slid away with the many landslides that trashed our road. Being at the top of a saddle and snug between two mountain ranges, that road was the only way in or out – helicopter access only for the foreseeable future.

So that was it. We were in an earthquake-induced lockdown, much like we’ve had for the last month in New Zealand. We got groceries by helicopter – and somehow the odd care package, too – thanks to being directly under the most direct route between Kaikōura and Blenheim; choppers were passing anyway, so were often happy to drop us food and supplies.

So, as humans can do so well, we adapted, created a new normal and got on with it. I hand-washed our usual cloth nappies until kind people donated disposables (525 of them!), we got a system going of cutting the wood to light the fire to heat the water to make a cup of tea, we went to bed when it got dark and up again with the sun, we completed a daily pilgrimage to “the top gate” to check cell phones, we created new safety schemes for when we went out on the property and we mastered cooking on the barbecue. 

Kate Hicks during her earthquake-induced lockdown

We don’t really have an idea about how Covid-19 will impact our day-to-day life to come, or how long we’ll be at each level. These decisions are out of our control. Similarly, we had no idea how long it would take for our road to be fixed.

When we finally got word of a small fix for our road, the relief was massive. We got power first – an amazing Christmas present – and then a four-wheel-drive-worthy road a few days later. We could finally get out to civilisation, six weeks after the quake stranded us.

Oddly, I felt nervous. Would it be the same as it was? What if I saw someone I knew, what would I say? What will the land look like? What if we got stuck in town because of an aftershock?

We got out three days before Christmas, and it was a relief to think we could get a few special things to celebrate after being stuck for so long.

I don’t know if it was because it was almost Christmas, if because everyone else had been experiencing almost-normal life for so long already, or if it was simply being among others and that almost-normal life after so long stranded at home, but whatever it was, I lost it.

A complete, blubbering mess in the dairy section of New World.

It struck me then what an odd and somewhat extraordinary time we’d had over the previous six weeks. I had lived through the Christchurch earthquakes, but hadn’t experienced the isolation that the Kaikōura quake delivered. While we were so very lucky and grateful in so many ways, coming out of six weeks solo was just as stressing as going in to it.

In the dairy section of New World, my partner gave me a squeeze and a passing friend gave me a hug. I dried my tears and went on to quietly buy some Christmas treats.

My message to those coming out of this lockdown: be gentle with yourself and others. Be just as gentle as you (hopefully) were at the start of, and during, this weird time. Everyone reacts differently and we’ve heard so much about being kind to one another – please be as kind and as gentle coming out of this time as you were going in to it.

We can be so grateful to get freedoms back but we can also feel completely bowled over again.

And if you find yourself a blubbering mess in the dairy section of your local supie, reach out to your nearest and dearest or indeed other support services.

Kia kaha Aotearoa.  

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