Kaikoura - 12 to 14 November 2010

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November 26th 2010
Published: November 26th 2010
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We set off early driving through Blenheim, the centre of the wine growing region with over 40 wineries in the area although a little early to be sampling the wine!!!,. Crossing the ‘dry hills’ of the Marlborough ranges we headed towards one of the most spectacular coastlines of the South Island, the Kaikoura coast. The views were again absolutely stunning, mountains, hills and extremely rugged coastline. The road hugs the shore for about 50 km and there were many places to stop and see the native wildlife including New Zealand fur seals playing on the shores of the turquoise South Pacific Ocean. We stopped to watch a large group of adult seals on the shoreline and noticed a Department of Conservation sign, Ohau Stream Seal Pups and Waterfall walk that Natalie and Allan (the couple we met at Pelorus Bridge) had mentioned on the opposite side of the road. We tramped along the track for a while and indeed came across a picturesque waterfall with about seven baby seals swimming in the pool beneath. Apparently in winter every year hundreds of New Zealand fur seals pups travel upstream to the waterfall where they interact socially with each other whilst their mothers are feeding at sea, safe from any predators. We stayed and watched them playing for a ages and they came right out of the water and sat right by our feet, in fact we had to move back as they were not afraid of us and kept getting closer and closer, a truly memorable experience and we could have stayed there for ever but we had to move on. We finally arrived at Kaikoura, the meeting place of ocean and mountains a truly stunning location where we viewed the majestic mountains still covered in winter snow from a stunning beach with extremely blue sea and large crashing waves. Our campsite which was right near the ocean was quite busy compared with other sites but then there was a view to die for. I think I mentioned in previous blogs about the ducks that seem to arrive at the motorhome as soon as we park up usually in pairs. Well on waking in the morning we were greeted with about a dozen sitting outside the van obviously waiting for any breakfast crumbs. Kaikoura Township is a bustling little place with many cafes and shops but the main reason we have come is for the wildlife which is renowned for. The coastal waters are home to an amazing array of marine mammals and birdlife but we have particularly come to hopefully see the Giant Sperm Whale that can grow to 20 metres and weigh over 50 tons. We have been told that these whales can be seen all year round in Kaikoura waters and that is why it is becoming world famous for its deep ocean canyons, now referred to as the ‘grand canyon of the sea world’, home to a diverse range of deep sea creatures, including the giant squid which the whales feed on. We headed off first thing to book our tour with a Maori owned company, Whale Watch Kaikoura this company has provided a big boost for the town and is situated right on the ocean front behind our campsite. The office is situated in the Kaikoura Railway Station, which is still the stop off for the passenger train from Christchurch in the morning and the return journey to Picton each afternoon. Our whale watch tour was scheduled for early the next morning and we were hoping for the same weather as we were getting at the moment which was glorious sunshine. We had lovely barbecued steaks and salad for dinner and Paul cooked these on the communal barbecue. Whilst he was cooking, a young girl came over and asked whether she could put her ‘jacket potatoes’ on the same heat. Paul said no problem but the potatoes were so large that they would take hours to cook she thought they would only take a while!!!!. Next morning we set off for our trip in a modern catamaran which had been specially designed and built for whale watching. The main cabin was enclosed with outside decks offering great viewing and photo opportunities. Whilst the boat was moving you had to remain in your seat as it travelled at great speed. A Maori guide gave an interesting commentary on all aspects of marine life in the area whilst the boat was moving and we picked up a lot of useful information. Marine animals are abundant in this area because of the currents and continental shelf formation. From land, the shelf slopes gradually to a depth of about 90m, then plunges to more than 800m. Warm and cold currents converge here, and when the southerly current hits the continental shelf it creates an upwelling current, bringing nutrients up from the ocean floor and into the light zone. The waters are often red with great clouds of krill, the sperm whale’s favourite food, attracting larger fish and squid. Lookout guides monitor the ocean and planes spot whales from the air and we were indeed lucky for them to find a Giant Sperm Whale right in front of us. Although it did not hang around too long Paul managed to get several good shots as it descended into the ocean, my video recording was not quite so good because of the waves but I did manage some footage. We had a truly memorable day even though we only managed to see one whale but will remember it for a very long time. It is ironic that this quaint little seaside town, founded on the killing of whales over a century ago, should now find new prosperity showing them off to us tourist. In the afternoon we undertook the Peninsula walkway a two hour return limestone cliff top walk which affords sublime views of the shoreline and mountains. It was a beautiful sunny day and we saw seals basking on the rocks as well as many birds including several yellowheads or yellow hammer we were not sure which. Half way round we came across Fyffe House a link to Kaikoura’s whaling past and which was apparently resting on whale vertebrae foundations. Fyfee House is the town’s oldest surviving building and a rare survivor of New Zealand’s early whaling industry. It began life as part of the Waiopuka whaling station, founded in 1842 by Robert Fyfee and remained a station until 1922. It was originally painted with a mixture of vegetable oils and, red/white lead, which gave it a pink hue which it has kept ever since and was a very pretty house overlooking the ocean and mountains. The area around Fyffe House is rich in archaeological artefacts and evidence suggests that the site has been inhabited for up to 850 years. Surrounding the house are the remains of extensive Maori settlements and we noticed several pa (fortified hills) on our walk (we have come across these all the way over NZ from our very first day when we visited ‘one tree hill’ in Auckland). This was a truly diverse walk with wonderful views with a true variety of landscapes and we would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. Being in Kaikoura is like being in an UK seaside town as many of the streets are named after seaside towns like, Brighton, Torquay and Scarborough quite strange really. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Kaikoura but yet again have to move on towards our next stop Hanmer Springs which is inland heading south. However on arrival in the town we were quite disappointed as it was being completely refurbished and most of the streets were taped off (probably in time for the summer season in a few weeks). It also looked liked the hot thermal pools would soon become a thermo aqua park, and although still opened it was not a good time to visit so we decided to move on towards our next destination bypassing Christchurch as we would be staying here at the end of our New Zealand Journey at Christmas. We got as far as a small town called Geraldine when we decided to stop for the night. Funnily enough we noticed that 11km down the road was a town called Winchester but it did not have any campsite! Our neighbours in the next motorhome, who arrived at the same time, were a lovely ‘dutch couple’ and we had a long chat with them, they had visited New Zealand several times before but still kept coming back. They were also heading South the next day and we wondered whether we would see them again. The next morning we intentionally drove through Winchester to see what it was like - trying hard not to blink it was definitely not the same as home (shame) and so we continued are journey on through Mackenzie Country to Lake Tekapo our next stop.

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