A crane nibbled delicately, like a giant praying mantis, on the remnants of a teetering office block while a bulldozer ground its way over mountains of rubble, shoving broken concrete and twisted steel into separate heaps. Even the undamaged buildings looked naked and vulnerable standing alone in fields of brick-dust and weeds.
We passed a man on a tractor in a field, a woman standing at a letterbox. We drove by dilapidated farm sheds clinging miraculously to verticality and new low-slung modernist milking sheds. A paddock full of Friesian calves looked like baize scattered with black and white jigsaw puzzle pieces.
We were almost the only car on the road. The other vehicles were freight trucks, milk tankers, and camper vans with cheerful names like Fairwinds, Trailbrite and Easy Go. In Murchison, the soldier statue on the war memorial stood on his plinth in lemon-squeezer hat and puttees, head bowed and hands folded over his rifle butt.
Everywhere, on seemingly blameless stretches of road there were white crosses adorned with plastic flowers. Near Christchurch, the sky darkened and it began to rain.