On the next episode, screening 12 February 2017 at 7pm on TVNZ 1:

Shaky Ground

Simon Lee had managed the vast Mendip Hills Station in North Canterbury for 10 years, but nothing could have prepared him for what happened just after midnight on 14 November 2016.

A 7.8 earthquake shook the upper half of the South Island in two big jolts just seconds apart, causing widespread damage.

Simon was asleep in the farm manager’s house when the first quake threw his bed across the room, directly into the path of the chimney, which had sheared off at roof level and was falling into the room. 

But a second quake picked the chimney up just as it started coming through the ceiling and threw it off the house, almost certainly saving his life.

His wife Meisha was feeding their seven-month-old baby in the lounge and a bookshelf fell and blocked the hall, separating her from her husband and their other three young children. 

They all ran from the house through different doors and met on the deck outside, soon to be joined by the other staff who were living in farm accommodation nearby.

‘It was a nice night, so our family all camped out on the deck,’ Simon says. ‘We slept under the stars for the night and just watched that big moon.’  Meanwhile the other staff all spent the night in a wooden cottage that was undamaged.   

The power had been cut, so they had no idea till dawn how much devastation the quake had caused. 

The house where the Lees live was knee-deep in broken furniture and appliances. The falling chimney had made a hole in the roof before it bounced off, but the house was not severely damaged otherwise.  However the family decided that their children needed a break from the fear of after-shocks, so Meisha and their four children moved further south to stay with friends for several weeks.

Meanwhile the old homestead nearby, where the farm owners live part-time, suffered heavy damage.  Luckily the Black family had left just hours before the quake struck. 

Other farm buildings suffered to varying degrees.  Every tool and piece of equipment in the workshop was thrown to the ground, necessitating a clean-up before repair work could even start.  And 10,000 litres of fuel leaked away because valves and pipes beneath fuel tanks had ruptured. 

Much of the 6100-hectare farm was inaccessible because of cracks and slips on roads and tracks. Many fences and gates were damaged, meaning stock could escape. 

But worse still, the network of underground pipes that feed water-tanks over most of the farm had suffered a series of fractures, which meant the stock would run out of water unless repairs could be done rapidly.

The Country Calendar crew filmed on the station for four days in the week after the quake while Simon and the staff repaired water leaks, checked fences and started repairing the most vital farm tracks.

The crew returned a month later to see how the recovery operation had gone.  They documented how Simon and his seven staff had made huge progress, allowing them to continue with regular seasonal tasks such as weaning lambs and moving cattle. 

Simon says after the quake everyone was initially in a state of shock, but they recognised the farm had to be kept running so they knuckled down to their tasks, working long hours.

He says he has always valued his staff, but no more so than in the aftermath of the disaster. ‘I think it’s a credit to them and how they’ve come through it.’

For more about the November 2016 earthquake, visit:http://info.geonet.org.nz/display/quake/2016/11


For a farming story about Mendip Hills Station published days before the quake, visit:http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/85808161/mendip-hills-in-sight-of-being-in-farmings-elite


For more about Mendip Hills Station’s beef genetics programme, visit:http://www.blnzgenetics.com/files/1478464506149.pdf





Dan Henry

Camera & Aerial Photography

Jeff Aldridge


Field Sound

Don Paulin

John Patrick


Editor & Colourist

Mike Townsend


Sound Mixer

Ian Leslie



Stephen Gallagher


Post Production Manager

Bailey Palmer


Production Manager

Robyn Best



Vivienne Jeffs


Network Executive

Jude Callen


Associate Producer

Dan Henry


Producer and director

Julian O’Brien