Our delight was tangible with the first glimpse of the ocean through the mountains as we drove toward Kaikoura. I was only capable of experiencing the delight after the making room for it by emptying my extremely full bladder. I passed up a bathroom stop that I shouldn’t have, oops, but thankfully some public toilets magically appeared when I was sure I couldn’t wait one more minute. That was in Cheviot, a tiny town near the coast just south of Kaikoura. Upon seeing the ocean, it was just a matter of finding the first available picnic spot where we could stop and absorb the sounds of the waves.
The little pull off we found had a table just for us and we were grinning ear to ear, so glad to be back next to the ocean. Lunch consisted of whatever leftover crackers, hummus, peanut butter, and carrot sticks we could find, and after finishing those we knew it was definitely time for another visit to the supermarket. Lucky for us, there was a New World right along the main road just before we reached our accommodation. I wanted to get the groceries before we checked in so I could organize the kitchenette while tech-nomad Paul set up his temporary office. Knowing we’d likely be involved in many tourist activities during our time in Kaikoura, I wanted to avoid another trip to the store that would eat up time that we could be spending on the beach. So, we stocked up the portable pantry and stuffed Zed to the roof before pulling into our hotel. The hosts were fantastic and so helpful in helping us get settled. The kitchenette welcomed us to the room and my eyes instantly fell on the less than mini fridge. “Okay,” I thought, “This is going to take some creative stuffing.” I knew there was no way I was going to fit all the cold stuff and produce in that little box. As I crammed “just one more thing” in, I began questioning if the appliance would remain functional. I began pulling out items that I guessed would rot less quickly than others and would remain edible until we could manage to consume them. Once I managed to get the mountain of groceries somewhat organized, I turned on the hot water to wash my hands. As I wet my hands and proceeded, suddenly the water was scalding hot, and I mean nearly boiling. Wow! I’d never ever experienced that hot of water coming from a tap. Maybe this was a good sign that the heater would work well too. Unfortunately for me, the unbearably, instantly hot water, took me a few days to get used to and I nearly blistered my hands more than once and definitely cussed more than twice in the process. Thankfully the shower did not function in the same manner.
Our room was very, very nice. The bathroom had in floor heating and an extremely competent space heater. There was a mountain view from the small inviting deck with french doors that we didn’t get to enjoy sitting on because the temperature remained below our comfort level throughout our stay. It was large enough, however, to provide a place to set the cooler to “cool” so we could use it as our back up fridge. We managed one quick trip down to the beach before sunset, after Paul’s office was operational. It is a long cobblestone and pebble beach and often when the waves retreat it sounds like bacon sizzling in a skillet. The ocean was audible and visible upon opening the main door to our room and looked directly east. We were treated to several gorgeous sunrises this week.
Plus, I woke to the most awesome noise. It was a little twing–like plucking a really high pitch guitar string. Each time the heater shut off there was a silent pause and then…..twing. Nearly every time, I chuckled to myself and sometimes the chuckles slipped to the outside. The sound did not once get annoying and for me to say that, wow you know it must have been special. It was so damn cute! Speaking of cute, baby seals are too. There is a place not far north of Kaikoura, Ohau Stream walk, not to be confused with the Ohau lookout on the coastal side of the highway where you can view the seal colony. At the Ohau Stream walk, which is on the opposite side of the road you can walk up a short path to a lovely waterfall with a pool at the base where apparently the baby seals hang out while they are growing up.
We’d been told about this place before we arrived in Kaikoura and I’d seen other information about it on the internet, but our hosts told us about it too. Most described it as a sort of seal nursery.
Can you imagine anything cuter than that? When we arrived the next day, there weren’t many baby seals remaining, but we did get to see a handful and they are adorable. However, I still think the blue penguins may score higher on the scale of adorable. The cuteness, curiosity and playfulness of the babies, coupled with a beautiful walk in the woods surrounded by ferns and moss covered rocks with a stunning waterfall to top it off, you just can’t pass up this roadside opportunity.
Kaikoura is known for the abundance of sea life. Whales and dolphins can be found near the coast all year long. A whale watch tour was at the top of our list since the one we booked during our last visit here was cancelled due to rough seas. We played the game of trying to determine the best time based on the weather forecast–Hahaha. We booked a 12:30 pm tour because the sea looked calm, drove to the point of the peninsula for a view and came back to check in and find a “sea-sickness” warning posted. They were still going to operate the tour but with the warning that the boat ride may not be too smooth. We boarded a seemingly new, extremely fast boat and the captain hit the throttle. The not so smooth seas laid the foundation for a ride akin to one found in an amusement park. For us, thankfully it was an absolute blast and I was instantly glad we’d gotten on this particular tour, whale sighting or not. For many others on the vessel, there were blasts, but not of the amusing kind. Their blasts were aimed into the little paper bags pulled from the seat backs. Having never been on a whale watching tour, we were new to the process, and this may not be the case everywhere but here in Kaikoura, all the tour companies work together, air and sea vessels communicate with each other to share information about wildlife sightings. Our captain knew exactly where he was headed and we needed to get there ASAP in order for all of us to catch sight of the whale that he’d been notified about. Within 20 minutes of boarding, we were standing against the railing of the boat rocking at sea, trying to steady our cameras and capture a picture of the magnificent fluke (whale’s tail) as the massive mammal dove to deeper water. Though I’d seen whales from the shore on other vacations, I had never experienced anything like this. These beasts are so enormous, but you only get to see the little bit that shows above the surface of the water. I find the magnitude quite incomprehensible, despite our guide attempting to paint vivid pictures with metaphors and comparisons. After the whale dove we were herded back inside the boat in pursuit of the next sighting catapulting up and splashing down through the big swells. Within minutes we slowed again and there it was a small strip of black, only a hint of the huge body that was gliding just under the surface, periodically blasting a spray while breathing.
We watched as the animal spouted a couple more times and then proceeded with thed dive we were anticipating. This time, just before the fluke appeared a giant swell slapped the front of the boat, showering us and our camera lenses with sea water, resulting in shrieks of surprise. The fluke was just as spectacular as the previous one. The reminder of our three hours on the undulating seas were spent searching, waiting, bouncing, rocking and looking and finally zooming and splashing our way back to the marina. I felt bad for those who had gotten sick during the ride and at the same time was glad I had not.
The forecast for the next two days called for sunshine. We thought this would be our best chance for the dolphin encounter cruise. We checked in and then waited several minutes to find out if they would be operating the tour because the “spotters” were not finding any dolphins. They did not run the tour. We seized the opportunity to take in some views from the peninsula walk while we had sunshine. The trip around the peninsula was fantastic and we spent the entire afternoon wandering along the track, listening to the birds, taking photos and standing in awe of the ocean from high on the cliffs.
The next day we’d set up a time to skype with my family. Not wanting to stay inside on a day of sunshine, Paul brought his mobile hot spot and we headed to the roadside “restaurant” that reportedly serves some delicious freshly caught seafood, most notably crayfish (what we Americans know as lobster). As we later found out the name Kaikoura which is from the Maori language actually means “meal of crayfish.” So it was fitting that we at least try some while we were here. We were torn as to what to order.
Of course there was crayfish, but they also offered a seafood platter which would allow us to try several different things in one meal. This was the option we chose. The sampling certainly gave us an idea of types of fish we may like to have again (whitebait, crayfish) and those we would not (paua). For the remainder of the afternoon and evening, we just enjoyed the sunshine and beach. We booked ourselves on the next day’s dolphin encounter trip and enjoyed a lengthy hacky sack session in the cobblestones next to the waves during which wewere visited by a very friendly cat.
No baking this week was a cinch. The hotel had a community grill (they call them barbeque’s here), so that was convenient for salmon and chicken and the remainder of the recipes were favorites from home. We did try two more restaurants too. The Pier had a seafood platter featuring different selections than the roadside stand including 1/2 a crayfish which was delicious.
We also tried the Donegal house at the suggestion of a lady in Hanmer Springs.This is the second Irish Pub we’ve visited and the second one to have roast as a special which I ordered for the second time and again it came with potatoes and peas. I’m done with this for a while. The entertainment here was utterly amusing. This entertainment, which consisted of a TV hanging over an enormous fireplace playing some kind of video of grey haired Irish men lined up on stage singing Irish tunes I’d never heard followed by a second video featuring a gentleman conservatively singing 50’s songs, led me to ask Paul if he too felt like we were watching Lawrence Welk. I just found it so funny, especially since we were one of two couples in the vast dining area. I was stifling giggles for the entire dinner so I would say that ultimately it was enjoyable. The Guinness they had on tap and the fireplace were delightful.
When it came time to check in for the dolphin tour, we hesitated again because it was cloudy, the weather seemed iffy. The sweet lady at the counter told us with a heavy Scottish accent that they were experiencing “slight” sea conditions which is really nice, or so she said. We didn’t know exactly what that meant. After a bit of back and forth trying to decide, we went ahead and paid for the afternoon trip. There weren’t too many of us on the boat–maybe 12 or so. They did a last minute boat change which meant we got on the boat before they put it in the water. They backed it over to the boat ramp with a big tractor, we boarded via a portable set of stairs and watched from the front of the boat that dwarfed the big tractor as it backed the trailer down into the water. Every boat trailer at the marina was hooked to a big tractor.
Paul and I found this fascinating as the only thing we’d seen tractors used for was farming. Off we went, this boat did not go quite as fast as the whale watch boat and they did keep telling us that the pod of dolphins that they saw in the morning were pretty far out so we’d be travelling for a while. We found out what “slight” sea conditions were and they were beautiful. The ocean was so calm and looking over to the horizon, it looked like slightly wavy glass. The sky and mountains reflecting in the water was awesome. The clouds hung over the mountains, but not covering the peaks, just keeping the light flat. We kept going and going. Ahead in the water we could see where the wind was disturbing the surface, and before long we reached it but there still weren’t swells anything like we’d seen on the whale watch. As we were cruising along, the captain spotted a whale and was able to slow down for us to take a peek. It was perfect timing for all of us on the boat as the whale dove just as we floated past and we were treated to another beautiful “fluke”. We rode for another spell, the captain stopped and looked around with binoculars. This routine we went through twice, then our guide said they were going to send up a plane to help spot. They did, everyone kept looking. Once we reached the outer limits of their “zone” we turned to head back, I could hear the disappointment in the guide’s voice, informing us that unfortunately no one had been able to spot the large pod of dolphins they’d seen earlier that day. Then a few minutes later, her excitement was just as palpable as the disappointment had been, when she announced that the plane spotted a large pod. We took off in pursuit. Moments later we were surrounded by Dusky dolphins swimming alongside the boat, under the bow and back again. They were leaping, flipping, slapping, twisting and turning all around. It was like driving the boat into the center of a happy bubble bursting on the surface of the water. These sleek creatures have an energy and playfulness that are contagious and the sight was quite unbelievable. Here are links to a couple videos. (dolphins playing, dolphins swimming with boat)
I was just snapping photo after photo trying to capture even one decent shot. The little guys were so quick, it was like trying to catch a raindrop in a thimble. I managed to get a few great pictures and lots of pictures of splashes.
On both the whale watch tour and the dolphin encounter, what I did not mention in describing them was the abundance of birds. There were many magnificent and elegant albatross species in addition to many others that I cannot name.
After all this, we had one more day to enjoy in Kaikoura and it was cool and windy and in between visiting The Pier for lunch and the Donegal house for dinner we spent more time with Zed than usual taking a drive to South Bay and then back to the point of the peninsula.
As we loaded Zed to leave Kaikoura, the sun was shining bright and it was warmer than any day we’ve had since we arrived, oh how we wanted to stay a bit longer here where the whitecaps lap at the margins of white peaks. An awe-inspiring extraordinarily beautiful location! We will return.