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From the Isle of Wight to the Shaky Isle: an engineering geology odyssey

02 February 2017

Are you thinking of working abroad? Civil engineer Nick Peters talks with Tonkin & Taylor about his relocating experience.

From the Isle of Wight to the Shaky Isle: an engineering geology odyssey

It’s been a long but rewarding journey from the UK to New Zealand’s earthquake-torn Christchurch for Isle of Wight-born Engineering Geologist, Nick Peters.

With a BSc in Geology, an MSc in Applied Environmental Geology, and five years’ experience with Newcastle-under-Lyme engineering consultancy Wardell Armstrong under his belt, Nick threw caution to the wind and, in 2003, headed Down Under.

The official rationale was: “I wanted a change of scenery and thought why not give New Zealand a go? I would give myself two years to see if it would work.”

The real reason was: “I was working on a landfill site in Corby, and a seagull dropped a half-eaten chicken drumstick beside me. At that moment I knew it was time for a change”.

“That was 14 years ago. Now I have the best job, a wife, two kids, a mortgage, an SUV, and a geriatric cat. I love it”.

Once in Wellington, Nick contacted New Zealand’s leading environmental and engineering consultancy, Tonkin + Taylor.

Snapped up within days, he began by helping T+T’s Wellington team with landfill monitoring and contamination assessments. However, just weeks later T+T – recognising the young Brit’s untapped potential – presented him with a far greater challenge.

“Within a month of arriving there was a large landslip in Wellington and I got drawn into doing natural hazard assessments for one of T+T’s biggest clients”, he recalls.

“Shortly afterwards, I was off to do geotechnical investigations for a proposed hydro scheme in the Wairau Valley in the upper South Island. It was two weeks surrounded by outstanding scenery and I was getting paid for it!”

Over the next twelve years, Nick lapped up the job variety in and around Wellington - undertaking natural hazard assessments, liquefaction assessments, site development investigations, tunnel, wind farm, hydro scheme and railway investigations, to name just a few.

“I just loved working on the infrastructure investigations. They’re fascinating because they cover such large areas and distances – it’s all big picture engineering geology and geotechnical engineering.”

He still counts his role on one of the region’s windfarms as one of his most memorable and enjoyable assignments.

“I just loved it,” he grins. Watching it being built was awesome – the big gravity pad foundations, the big cuts and fills, everything. Seeing the end product gave me a huge level of satisfaction”.

In February 2015, Nick was asked by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Programme Manager, John Leeves, to move to Christchurch as a Work Stream Manager on Claims Resolution. There he led a team to resolve and close out the most challenging and complex insurance claims resulting from the 2010 -2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence.

“It involved leaving my comfort zone, leaving work and people I really enjoyed, and moving my family into a city in the middle of a rebuild, and to a role I had not done before. But my wife and I thought: ‘Let’s give it a go. Let’s see what happens; it’s a challenge’.”

Apart from managing the Claims Resolution work stream, Nick is also Operations Manager for T+T’s entire land insurance claims caseload. This is where natural disaster damage claims require an engineering/geological assessment.

In any given year that is in excess of 500 natural hazard assessments. Typically, that work is dominated by landslip assessments.

He is now embracing the challenges wrought by last year’s 7.8 Mw Kaikoura earthquake. As Project Manager for the work T+T is carrying out in the Canterbury, Marlborough and Nelson regions, Nick acts as a technical reviewer, mentor and advisor – ensuring technical consistency across hundreds of assessments.

Fourteen years on, Nick can comfortably say: “I’m really glad I did that”.

“The people are great, the opportunities are endless and the enthusiasm is amazing. I’ve never really thought about wanting to work for anyone else because my time at T+T has been so rewarding and interesting”.

If you’re thinking about developing the next stage of your career in NZ or Australia, visit the Tonkin + Taylor website.

There are opportunities in Civils, Geotechnical, Water Resources, Environmental and Highway Engineers, Engineering Geologists, CAD Designers, Project Delivery Managers and more.

  • Robbie Maddison, knowledge content producer at ICE