Road Trip NZ: First Stop, Kaikoura

Overview

Population: 2,080

Distance Travelled: 190 km

Total Road Trip Distance: 190 km

10th – 11th Nov

We had looked into various ways of getting around the south island and settled pretty quickly on renting a car due to the very limited public transport network. And for $35 a day we were very pleased with our decision.

Our first port of call was back the way we came for supplies, including some $5 CDs to supplement the dodgy radio. Our picks were Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly; The Coral and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! 3 albums I listened to bits of but not in their entirety circa 2005.

We first headed to a small town 30 mins north of Christchurch called Rangiora. The only reason we were going here was to see Callum (no offence Rangiora, you were lovely, just would never have thought of going otherwise). Unfortunately Danielle was working so Callum took us and his two dogs to a nearby beach called Tuhaitara Coastal Park. We made a quick pitstop on the way at a bakery that did a rather tasty cheese, onion and herb tear & share bread first but then set off to the beach with two happy dogs.

We went back to Callum’s for a cuppa and Danielle came back from work just in time for us to see her before we left. We needed to get ourselves to Kaikoura before 8pm to get ourselves checked in to our hostel.

Most of the drive was inland on long, straight, flat roads. After about ninety percent of our journey the road hit the coast and we got our first taste of why NZ is so spectacular. The highway winds around the coast, sometimes mere metres away from the sea, with huge cliffs sloping up to the left. At one point we saw a solitary seal sat on a rock in a bay. It was a spectacular drive.

At 7:55pm we arrived and parked up and ran in to get our room. Turned out although the guy closed the reception he went round the corner to chill in the lounge, but we were happy we made it. We walked down the hill to the centre of Kaikoura to get some proper coastal fish & chips (with curry sauce and everything). We stopped in at a local tavern before heading back up the road to bed.

The next day we checked out of our hostel but just lugged everything in our car (the joys of having a car!) We had looked into various whale watching expeditions and swimming with seals but everything was well over $100 (there were some helicopter whale watching tours for over $500). We went for the free option of walking around the coast of the peninsula, a 3-4 hour walk with plenty of wildlife. The first bit was through the town and, apart from bumping into a nurse who I’d worked with in Leeds, was rather uneventful.

After a while we came across a bright pink house called Fyffe House. It was built in the 1800s by a Scot who’d emigrated to get involved in the whaling trade. It had a colourful history (not just because of its bright pink walls, a side effect of weatherproofing in the day apparently) and the exhibits attempted to give you a taste of what it was like back when it was built. The most fascinating part was the outside, where you could see how the foundations included actual whale bones with some genuine whale verterbra hanging around for you to pick up.

Beyond this house we found a seafood BBQ where I ate some crayfish, in frittata form. I couldn’t not eat crayfish because the Maori for eating crayfish is Kaikoura. Despite their best efforts the seagulls got none and I enjoyed it all.

Just around the corner from here we found a boardwalk leading up to a car park. Although we had seen that one solitary seal we had whizzed past and he was quite a way away. We had been told there can be hundreds of seals gathered around the car park so we were hopeful. We saw a group of people gathered around something and it did not disappoint. A seal, on a log, posing for all the photos.

We saw a huge number of seals out at sea and on the rocks by the shore. We hung around in the car park for a while watching them before heading up the hill to continue our loop.

The track took us along the top of the cliffs around the coastline. The cliffs became a huge rolling slope and the peninsula appeared to be on two levels with a large rim-like coastline, like a trilby, but a massive grass covered, seal colony trilby. It was dramatic stuff.

The rest of the walk followed a similar theme of dramatic scenery, seals and plenty of birds. There was also a punk pig.

We had a short wooded walk back to the township where we stopped briefly to get ice-cream (hazelnut and oreo cookie whipped together)/chips (potato) before heading back to our car to move on to our next spot.

The hostel

Dusky Lodge Backpackers was everything we needed, a warm, clean room with a bed in. Between checking in and out was a grand total of 14 hours and we spent 2 or 3 of those getting food and drink in the evening. But it seemed lovely with fantastic facilities (it had log fires and a hot tub) just a shame we didn’t get to use them.

Note: We visited Kaikoura a couple of days before the massive 7.8 earthquake that killed 2 people. The destruction has been huge and Kaikoura may never be the same again. We were just so glad we weren’t there at the time and were lucky to be able to see this beautiful place as it was, but I feel for the families and communities that are struggling through this disaster, some without a safe home to go back to. This BBC article highlights the long term effects this small village is looking at and it must be such anxious time for everyone affected.

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