Cantabrians of Whangarei loving it

SHAKEN TOGETHER: Hilary Edmunds, left, Lynda Black, and Michael and Clare Groenestein are happy to be COWs - Cantabrians of Whangarei.
SHAKEN TOGETHER: Hilary Edmunds, left, Lynda Black, and Michael and Clare Groenestein are happy to be COWs - Cantabrians of Whangarei.

Just saying the word "Christchurch" used to make Hilary Edmunds burst into tears - such was the trauma of the earthquakes and their destruction on her life.

But now the "refugee" has settled into life in Whangarei and has picked up the phrase "Whangarei: Love it here".

Hilary, 74, had lived in Christchurch since the 1960s and never thought there would be an earthquake.

But everything was shattered in the September 2010 earthquake and deadly February 2011 quake, and she decided it was too stressful living in Canterbury.

Hilary moved to Whangarei because it was one of the least seismically active places in the country, and she didn't want to live in a big city like Auckland but wanted to be near a hospital.

She left behind her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren but says they were totally supportive of her move.

"I couldn't be the nana I had been prior to the earthquake. I was too frightened to have them stay with me or to live in their house - I just couldn't live a normal life," she says.

She believes the stress of the earthquakes and the ordeal of moving has had an impact on her health, and she suffered a stroke in Auckland while moving up to Whangarei.

But Hilary says she has managed to bounce back and settle here during the past 17 months.

Despite not knowing anyone she says the kind people of Whangarei have made a difference.

"In the early days I just couldn't say the word Christchurch without being emotionally upset. People would come out from behind the shop counter and give me a hug," she says.

"I probably say to people I love it here at least once every day without being smart," she says.

Hilary has joined Whangarei's bridge club, film society, a walking group, started te reo Maori lessons and enjoys going to the Whangarei Aquatic Centre.

Although it was an ordeal she even managed to sell her house in Bishopdale and buy a low-maintenance house in Onerahi.

Lately she has also enjoyed catching up with other people from Christchurch, introduced thanks to a morning tea organised by Age Concern Whangarei.

"We had a lovely get-together and then a Christmas lunch at my place and we had a barbecue recently."

The group have shrugged off the term "refugees" and instead prefer to be known as COWs - Cantabrians of Whangarei.

The others have similar stories of stress and loss but find when they get together they don't talk about the earthquakes.

"It's funny how disasters like earthquakes can bring people together," Clare Groenestein says.

"That first meeting we had at Age Concern I thought I would have never met these people had I still been in Christchurch."

Hilary believes there may be other people from Christchurch who have moved to Whangarei and she encourages people of any age to get in touch. Call Hilary on 436 3023 for details.

Whangarei Leader