New Zealand Earthquake tourist advice: Is it safe to travel?
New Zealand’s South Island has been struck by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which has left two people dead.
The initial quake has been followed by a series of smaller tremors, including one that measured magnitude 6.3.
Some communities have been left without power, and aftershocks have caused landslides, dammed rivers and downed power cables.
Where has been hit?
The quake struck just outside the town of Kaikoura, a popular tourist resort some 110 miles north of Christchurch.
Local authorities claim the main road into Kaikoura has been cut off by landslides, adding that telecommunications, water and power supplies have also been severed. People are currently being airlifted to safety from the town.
A tsunami warning for the South Island’s northeast coast was issued but has since been called off.
The quake was felt as far afield as Wellington on the North Island, where local authorities have been clearing up debris and checking buildings for structural damage.
Though the earthquake was more powerful than the one that struck Christchurch nearly exactly five years ago, which killed 182 people and destroyed many buildings, it has wrought significantly less devastation.
That said, the quake is thought to have caused significant damage to the South Island’s infrastructure; many highways have cracked or been blocked by landslides.
Is the area popular with tourists?
Kaikoura attracts roughly one million tourists annually, most of whom come to admire the local marine life.
“Kaikoura is renowned for its resident sperm whales and other leviathan species that visit in winter,” says New Zealand travel expert, Sarah Bennett.
Swimming with dolphins and spotting albatrosses are also popular activities in the town, which is overlooked by the spectacular snow-capped peaks of the Kaikoura Ranges.
In 2004, Kaikoura became the first town in the world to gain accreditation under the Green Globe scheme, which recognised its “positive contributions to people and planet” through ecotourism.
Have airports and roads been affected?
None of New Zealand's airports have been affected by the quake, but many roads and railways have been ripped up or blocked by landslides.
“It looks as though it's the infrastructure that's the biggest problem,” said civil defence minister, Gerry Brownlee. “Although I don't want to take away from the suffering... and terrible fright so many people have had.”
What to do if you are there?
New Zealand authorities are still warning of the risk of aftershocks in the area. And while the tsunami warning has been lifted, people staying near the coast are advised to exercise extreme care, especially given that bad weather is predicted.
A statement on the Civil Defence website reads:
“Based on all available data, the tsunami threat has now passed. However, coasts may still experience unusual, strong currents and sea level fluctuations lasting for several more hours. People are advised to stay vigilant in and around coastal waters.”
Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs has advised any citizens with concerns to contact the Embassy of Ireland in Canberra at 0061 2 6214 0000, or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin at 01 408-2000.
It advises all citizens to follow the advice of local authorities.
People travelling around the South Island by road are advised to follow local advice as there are many highway closures that will impact journeys.
It is not currently possible to travel to Kaikoura, where a state of emergency currently exists.
Can I cancel my trip?
In short, no. And it's not necessary to do so, either.
"Much of New Zealand remains unaffected," said a spokesperson for New Zealand Tourism. "All airports are open and operational in New Zealand. It appears the greatest impact is in rural North Canterbury, Kaikoura and Wellington, although information is still being confirmed."
If your trip has been affected by the earthquakes, then your tour operator will be contractually obliged to provide suitable alternative arrangements or offer a refund.
If you simply want to cancel your trip out of choice, it is unlikely you will be entitled to a refund. Contact your tour operator, accommodation or your insurer to discuss your options.
Are quakes in New Zealand common?
New Zealand sits on the so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are common.
The nation of 4.7 million people is still recovering from heavy quakes in 2010 and 2011, which killed 185 people and caused billions in damage to the city.
For more info, see civildefence.govt.nz/.