Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Continued Rumblings

After last week’s  6.5 magnitude quake, our building was given the all clear on Tuesday, and we returned to work on Wednesday. The aftershocks seemed to be lessening in intensity and everything went back to normal. The likelihood of another big shake was decreasing.

But it didn’t disappear entirely, and on Sunday night (well, Monday morning) there was another large aftershock of 5.4 magnitude.  No damage was reported from this one, and we returned to work on Monday (after first checking that we were all clear to do so).

On Monday night at 9:45 there was a further 4.1 magnitude aftershock – strong enough to be felt, but that was about it.

In unrelated geology news, White Island has been showing more signs of activity of late, and whilst the alert level is still 1 (Departure from typical background surface activity), the aircraft warning has changed to yellow (Volcano is experiencing signs of elevated unrest above known background levels).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Not "The Big One"

Another Friday morning at work; so far, so normal. Then the building starts to shake. OK, we think, that’s happened before. But it doesn’t stop, and when the shaking suddenly gets worse, I followed emergency procedures and dived under my desk, and held onto the desk leg until the shaking stopped.

The information was on Geonet almost immediately: a 5.9 magnitude earthquake had struck just off the coast of South Island, near a “town” called Seddon (pop. 510).

Well, that gave us something to talk about for the rest of the day. There were some aftershocks, but nothing you could really feel, until mid-afternoon, when another shock of 4.6 magnitude rumbled through. Back under the desk again.

Throughout the weekend there were further aftershocks – you could feel the vibrations if you sat down or lay down perfectly still – but nothing really to worry about. That is, until late Sunday afternoon, when a really big one came through. Originally measured at 6.9, it was later confirmed as a 6.5 magnitude quake (by way of comparison, the two quakes which shook Christchurch in February and June  2011 were 6.3 and 6.4 magnitude).

There has been some damage to buildings in the centre of Wellington, including some broken windows, cracked concrete and roads, and damage caused by sprinkler systems going off, as well as the usual stuff falling off supermarket shelves and making a mess, which looks impressive in the news but isn’t really damage.

Damage in the BNZ building on Harbour Quays

On Monday morning, parts of the CBD were closed to the public, and Civil Defence were advising people not to come into work. Our Business Continuity Plan had already been brought into effect on Sunday night, with messages cascading down about what to do and whether to go to work. Monday was a “quake day” for us, so we decided to go and watch The World’s End at The Roxy, which seemed appropriate.

By Monday evening, most buildings had been given the all clear by structural engineers, and Nicola went into work as normal on Tuesday. The building I work in, unfortunately, is one of those that has not yet been opened – it’s apparently suffered some damage due to a ruptured water tank, so I’m still waiting to find out when I’m supposed to go back to work.

This series of earthquakes – a “swarm” in the jargon – is centred in the Cook Strait. It is not on the Wellington Fault, which is the biggest concern for Wellingtonians. (The whole city is built on a fault – way to go, early settlers!) Whether this series has increased or decreased the likelihood of a quake on the Wellington Fault is still a matter for the seismologists to figure out. However, the fact that the fault is known about is probably a contributing factor in the resilience of the buildings to the quake, as all modern buildings have been built to a more rigorous earthquake-proofing code, and older buildings have been strengthened.

We’re still getting aftershocks in the magnitude 4 range, which is just about at the limit of being felt. The likelihood of another large shock is decreasing, so they say, but it hasn’t gone away entirely.

Tirohana Vineyard

Sunday, my birthday, was cold and rainy. Nevertheless we decided to execute a long-held plan to drive over the Rimutakas and go to Martinborough for lunch at the Tirohana Estate vineyard. We made the drive over in the rain, and went straight to the i-site to see which vineyards were open and pick up a map, as I mysteriously lose all the maps of Martinborough that I pick up each time we visit. We decided to go to three vineyards for tastings and to purchase some wine, including one of my favourites, Schubert, where I picked up some of their 2010 pinot noir; as well as Ata Rangi and Te Kairanga. Then, as it was still early, we went back into the town centre to Café Medici for a coffee, before heading out to lunch at Tirohana Estate vineyard.

Tirohana Estate (on a nicer day)

I’d booked Tirohana as we’d visited it before and noted that it had an indoor dining room. Whilst many of the vineyards provide al fresco dining in the summer, it was a bit chilly to be sitting outside in July! But with a log fire in the dining room, we were toasty, and enjoyed a good lunch with one of their chardonnays as accompaniment. After we’d had pudding, the waiter brought out a pancake and candle with a “Happy Birthday” message in icing, and also gave me a voucher for a free main course next time we visited (terms and conditions apply, natch), which I think we’ll use in the summer.

After lunch we tried to beat the weather on the way home, as snow was forecast down to 300m, a description which includes the Rimutaka road, and has been known to be closed in heavy weather. Fortunately it didn’t start snowing until we were almost at the top of the pass, and it wasn’t cold enough to freeze and settle, so we took it nice and slow until we reached the other side and the motorway.

After a full-on dining experience over the last two days, we stayed at home on Sunday night and I cooked some of our bounty from Moore Wilson – my famous (in our house, anyway)  steak stack. We also polished off some Schubert 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot which had been burning a hole in my wine cupboard. 

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Erm, right here in Wellington, actually. Yes, Jason has broken his Wellington duck and come over from the West Island for a visit in the coolest little capital in the world last weekend, staying from Friday to Monday. So we decided to take him on a gastronomic tour of Wellington. After picking him up at the airport (an adventure in itself, as they are changing all the roads, lanes and car park access there to increase capacity), we first went for a drive around the Miramar peninsular, finishing up with a  coffee at Coco at The Roxy. Wellington was laying on its best weather for the weekend – cold, rainy, windy.

In the evening we headed into town to have drinks and dinner at Matterhorn. They’ve changed their set-up a bit since we last went there, and now offer “sharing plates” rather than a traditional dinner. We ordered a selection of starters and mains, including the slow-roasted beef, which was excellent, and too much of everything else. All washed down with some startlingly good pinot noir from Otago.

On Saturday, the weather had improved somewhat. The wind had dropped and whilst it remained cloudy, the sun was trying to come through. We drove round the bays to get into town, then took the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens to take a walk whilst the weather was still dry. We saw the inevitable tuis, and also a bird of prey which may have been a New Zealand falcon (v. rare, but there are known to be some nesting in Zealandia), or an Australasian harrier, which whilst common, are rarely seen in the city. We then took the cable car back down to the city, and after a quick tour round the cornucopia of delights that is Moore Wilson, we went home for some lunch.

Falcon or harrier? You decide!

An inevitable tui

These two followed me around all day

In the afternoon the weather turned rainy and windy again, so we decided to go and see the Warhol exhibition currently at Te Papa. They had some early drawings, the big famous ones, and also a silver balloon room, which Warhol made when he gave up painting for the first time.

In the evening we went to Logan Brown, one of Wellington’s top restaurants, which Jason had previously expressed a desire to visit. On Saturday nights they do away with the à la carte menu and serve only the dégustation menu.

So far, so tasty…but the next day snow was forecast.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Yes, Prime Minister

Yes, Prime Minister – the stage play based on the BBC tv series of yesteryear – is touring New Zealand and came to Wellington for a short run at the Opera House. We tootled into town to dine at Vivo Enotica Cucina, a wine bar and restaurant which is sadly neglected by many in Wellington –but not tonight, it appeared, although (in the manner of restaurants everywhere) they managed to squeeze us in. It’s possible that a lot of restaurants were experiencing the same pre-theatre rush as our first choice, Zibibbo, had been fully booked when I checked earlier in the week.

We had a lovely dinner of arancini and fettucine (herself) and carpaccio and confit duck leg (me) all washed down with some New Zealand wine; they do a very good selection by the glass, as well as carrying some of New Zealand’s finest, and a good selection of foreign wine as well (and not just from New Zealand’s West Island). We were also able to make a first indent on this year's Entertainment Card, which handily reduced the bill.

A short walk took us to the Opera House, where we were royally entertained by Jim Hacker, Sir Humphrey, Bernard and various others as they attempted to solve a knotty problem whilst at Chequers (the Prime Minister’s country residence), before giving a live interview to the BBC in the morning. If you’ve seen the series, then you know what to expect, and if you haven’t, well, you should! It was watched by many politicians, including Margaret Thatcher, who (allegedly) viewed it as a documentary rather than a comedy. Unsurprisingly, there were a number of civil servants in the audience, and Nicola spotted many acquaintances there from work.

Blessed Are The Cheesemakers

Last weekend we drove into Newtown, one of Wellington’s lower-rent suburbs, to visit a shop called Brew House. They sell mostly equipment to do with home brewing and wine making, but do a side line in cheese-making equipment as well. Some months ago, Nicola went on a cheese-making course and has been itching to put her knowledge into practice.

Armed with the Mad Millie kit, and after reading the instructions, we sought out sheep’s milk at Moore Wilson, in order to make halloumi. Unfortunately they had none, although I’m sure I’ve seen it there before. So we bought cow’s silver-top (full-cream) milk instead. I also spotted that they stock buffalo milk, which will be handy when mozzarella is on the cheese-making menu.

Cheese-making in progress

The cheese-making process is a mysterious art which requires special utensils, and magic. Nicola will tell you all about it.

At the end of the process, we had six small halloumi cheeses. We had some for lunch last Sunday, and more for lunch today. They taste of halloumi, fry up well, and are generally successful.