At 10.17am on the June 17, 1929, Murchison was rocked by a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Damage to houses, buildings, bridges and roads was severe, and the road from Westport to Reefton was closed for 18 months.

View looking up to top of slip (a few of the weird rock formations can be seen in the foreground)

However, the most drastic consequences of the big shake were to the landscape. Being midwinter, the countryside was sodden from recent rains that made the land very unstable and even more prone to slippage. Throw a 7.8 magnitude earthquake into the mix and the result was hundreds of landslides and slips all around the province. Rivers were completely blocked or diverted and many new lakes were formed as massive landslides ‘plugged’ entire river valleys. Seventeen people died in the earthquake, 14 of those were killed by landslides.

 

Johnson Creek

Aside from providing a very pleasant and easy two-hour bush walk, Johnson Creek gives you a first-hand view of the power and consequences of such a large earthquake. The sheer size of this relatively small landslide (in Murchison earthquake terms) is very apparent when you’re standing at the bottom of it, making you feel very insignificant in the whole scheme of things.

Image showing the massive landslide which pushed the Matakitaki River away from the toe of the hill


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