Shaky Isles

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The Shaky Isles or Shaky Islands is a nickname for New Zealand.[1] At one time this nickname was used in New Zealand itself, though its usage there is now seen as dated; it is still fairly widely used in Australia.[citation needed]

The name derived from New Zealand's frequent seismic activity. The islands lie on the margin of two colliding tectonic plates, the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates. Earthquakes are common, particularly in the southwest of the South Island and in the central North Island, and the North Island's scenery is marked by several active and dormant volcanic cones.

The phrase is at worst only very mildly derogatory, and is usually only used humorously with no pejorative connotations.

The country records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year – but only about 150 are usually felt.[2] Schoolchildren in the country regularly undertake earthquake drills.[citation needed]

Significant recent earthquakes[edit]

4 September 2010: This 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck what was then New Zealand's second largest city, Christchurch.[3] damaging many buildings, but with no loss of life. This was mainly due to New Zealand's building standards, the epicentre being approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) from the city, and the quake hitting at 4:35am.

22 February 2011: A 6.3 magnitude earthquake caused far more damage in Christchurch, including 181 deaths. This quake struck at about lunchtime and was centred closer at Lyttelton, and shallower than the prior quake, explaining the resultant destruction.[4]

21 July 2013: A 6.5 magnitude earthquake struct in the Cook Strait near the town of Seddon and caused moderate damage in New Zealand's capital, Wellington. It was preceded by a strong M5.7 foreshock.[5]

16 August 2013: A 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck near Lake Grassmere in South Islands Marlborough Region. It quake added substantial more damage to the town of Seddon after the 6.5 Seddon earthquake one month prior and both are considered to be an earthquake doublet.[6]

2 September 2016: A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near Te Araroa off East Cape, North Island. Damage was localised to towns nearer to the epicentre of the earthquake, with 255 claims for damage compensation being lodged.

14 November 2016: A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near Culverden and Kaikoura in the North Canterbury area of the South Island. Two deaths have been reported. Moderate to significant damage occurred along the East Coast of central New Zealand, from Christchurch all the way through Wellington. The seabed near Kaikoura was raised 2.5 meters in some places.

Historical references[edit]

Usage of the term “Shaky Isles” in the earlier half of the 20th century indicates a certain sensitivity on the subject among New Zealanders.

“New Zealand need not worry about the untruthful nickname ‘Shaky Isles,’ which appears occasionally in Australian papers, when a report of an earthquake is cabled across the Tasman Sea,” the New Zealand Railways Magazine assured its readers in 1929.[7]

In 1932 (the year after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake in New Zealand’s North Island killed 256 people) New Zealand’s Leader of the Opposition, Australian-born Harry Holland, warned New Zealand’s Parliament of “the serious damage that is being done to New Zealand by the grossly exaggerated and untruthful statements that are published overseas regarding earthquakes, riots, fires, and floods…” [8]

Holland told Parliament: “I visited Australia less than two years ago, and almost invariably when my name appeared in the newspapers I was described as a visitor from the land of shakes. My son was manager of the New Zealand hockey team which toured Australia. They visited Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales, and some of them went as far as South Australia. He brought back with him clippings from a number of newspapers, in which he and his team were described as the hockey team from the Shaky Isles. He says that when people got off the boat at Sydney they were looked upon as being very fortunate to have escaped from New Zealand, because of the continual shakes. I think the time has come when the Government would be well advised to impose a very much stricter censorship over the damaging cable messages that are sent out.”

In popular culture[edit]

The term "Shaky Isles" has been used multiple times in New Zealand popular culture as a reference to the country. Among the earliest uses of the term was by the Maori Troubadours in 1960, with their song Shakin' in the Shaky Isles.[9] This was followed up in later decades by Mike Harding in 1989 and Dave Dobbyn in 1991. A New Zealand theatre company headed by Emma Deakin in London is called "The Shaky Isles Theatre Company".[10] "Shaky Isles" is also the name of a cafe chain in Auckland.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taylor, Rowan; New Zealand (1997). The State of New Zealand's Environment 1997. Wellington, N.Z: Ministry for the Environment. ISBN 978-0-478-09000-0.
  2. ^ "New Zealand Earthquakes / Earthquakes / Science Topics / Learning / Home - GNS Science". Retrieved 23 May 2022.
  3. ^ Adetunji, Jo (4 September 2010). "Earthquake strikes Christchurch in New Zealand". The Guardian. London.
  4. ^ "Christchurch earthquake: Latest news – Wednesday". 2 March 2011. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  5. ^ "M 6.5, Cook Strait, 21 July 2013 – Earthquake – GeoNet". 21 July 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  6. ^ "M 6.6, Lake Grassmere, 16 August 2013 – Earthquake – GeoNet". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  7. ^ New Zealand Railways Magazine. 1929.
  8. ^ Parliament, New Zealand (1932). Parliamentary Debates. House of Representatives.
  9. ^ "Maori Troubadours – Shakin' In The Shaky Isle (vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  10. ^ "Our work is physical, lyrical, it's story. Of home and where home is now, of New Zealand, of London – of everything in between". Shaky Isles Theatre. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  11. ^ "About Us". Shaky Isles. Marvel Hospitality. Retrieved 3 September 2016.

External links[edit]