New Zealand is a tiny place, if you ask me. I’ve only been here for six weeks now and I’m pretty sure I’ve met everyone. They all ask me the same question: just what is it about New Zealand that makes it seem so different from what you’re used to back home?
Well, if I could gather the entire New Zealand population in one room so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself eight times, I’d give them my answer. I’d say to them that between the United States, a Nation of 300 million citizens, and New Zealand, a pair of inflatable life rafts adrift near Antarctica, the single most blaring difference is almost too obvious to mention. It’s the volcanoes. They’re everywhere!
Auckland, the city where I live, sprawls over 49 volcanoes, like a picnic blanket spread out over 49 volcanoes of much smaller dimension. As I’ve written in this blog before, Mt. Eden, like all the other volcanoes, isn’t dangerous anymore. They all pretty much blew their wads. They’re finished in this town. Washed up. Harmless. If you ever come to Auckland, feel free to visit them with impunity and a naive feeling of security, in flagrant obliviousness to the infernal powers of creation that would make your heart quail to countenance. And don’t forget to stop by our refreshment stand.
But know this, and be warned, and lo, while the 49 volcanoes that have blown up around Auckland in the last 140,000 years may be extinct, the Auckland Volcanic Field that fed them is still quite active and will remain so for the next 900,000 years. The existing volcanoes are unlikely to erupt ever again but new ones are guaranteed to form. What’s more, the Volcanic Field has seen an increase in both the volume and frequency of eruptions over the last 20,000 years, with the biggest one, Rangitoto, being the most recent. Rangitoto emerged 600 years ago out of the depths of Auckland Harbor, forming the largest real estate bubble ever. Scientists say there’s a five percent chance the area will see another eruption within fifty years. But what do scientists know?
Actually, I believe them for once, and I’ll tell you why. The other day, Jacquie and I decided to clear our heads after a very stimulating and dramatic Christmas celebration with her family. After about three martinis, we thought it would be a good idea to take a walk up our favorite (wink, wink) “extinct” volcano, Mount Eden, upon whose western slope we reside. Mount Eden (Maungawhau, the ‘Mountain of the Whau tree in Māori) rises 643 feet above sea level, making it the highest point known to man. The view was so nice, we decided to take some photographs of the Central Business District, a few kilometers to the north.
As any fool can see from the three above photographs taken moments apart, Auckland’s Central Business District is moving away from Mount Eden at an alarming rate. It was a good thing Jacquie and I spotted the danger and an even better thing that we were drunk at the time otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to find the courage to warn everyone of the calamity New Zealand faced. We had to get the word out to the public. Luckily, and by coincidence, everyone in New Zealand happened to be there already, gathered at the top of the mountain for the country’s annual group photo.
We were on the opposite side of the cone, so we had to shout at the top of our lungs. “Hey, over here,” Jacquie screamed.
“Hey,” someone screeched in return. “How are you going?”
“Oh, not so good, eh,” Jacquie bellowed. “And it’s probably going to get worse.”
“You reckon?” the stranger stammered.
“I do reckon,” Jacquie said.
“Is that Jacquie, by the way?” the stranger said. “Jacquie, is that you mate?”
The stranger, funnily enough, turned out to be an old friend of Jacquie’s from “uni” (short for “University”). They screamed pleasantly across the volcanic cone for about eight minutes before they realized that though they were pleased to see each other after so many years, they just didn’t have much in common any more, and so the conversation came to an abrupt and awkward halt.
“Anyway, it was good to see you,” Jacquie said.
Just then, somebody else screamed in terror, for he too realized that he had gone to Uni with Jacquie, and what at first seemed to be the End of the World eventually turned into an impromptu Uni reunion; indeed, a veritable re-uni-union, which dragged on and on into hours of awkward silence. Similarly, the danger of death by violent tectonic upheaval turned into an almost certain death by boredom.
The whole experience made me wonder. What could we who live in the Auckland Volcanic Field do to save ourselves in the event that a new volcano exploded and so many people had to get out of the area in a hurry? How would we save ourselves? Luckily, the Auckland City Council has developed an evacuation plan.