I didn’t know what to expect from Kaikoura following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake they had there in November last year. I had heard that roads around the area were still closed from the damage but luckily, our route in was pretty clear, aside from maybe a fifteen minute standstill as we waited to drive on part of the ocean road that is still unstable and prone to rockfall. Let me tell you, there are worse places to be sat still and waiting for traffic to clear, it was a beautiful spot with views of the sea (obviously) and Kaikoura’s resident seal colony just metres from the roadside. Soon we were given the all clear to continue into the town and we arrived to blue skies and sunshine.
I set off to find my hostel, taking in the small town on the way. To my surprise, most shops were open and you wouldn’t necessarily know that there’d been an earthquake there just months before, aside from a few buildings surrounded by scaffolding and stickered with yellow restricted entry labels. I quickly found my accommodation, Sunrise Lodge Backpackers, which turned out to be one of my favourite hostels of the trip due it just being so quiet and relaxing there (although admittedly this is due to reduced tourism numbers following the earthquake). Another reason is because the hostel had a resident three-legged dog and to me, if there’s a dog there it’s 10/10.
The hostel backs onto the train line (which isn’t currently running following the earthquake) and immediately beyond that is the black sand beach that spans the length of the town. I wandered along the beach, which is pebbly and actually really difficult to walk along without looking like an unstable idiot! I made it down to where there were a bunch of seabirds sat on the rocks in the shallows and nosied at them for a bit. Then I wandered back up the pebble incline towards the town, again without ease because the ground gives way under every footstep! As I walked along the river that lies parallel to the beach, I was filled with utter dread– the town’s tsunami alarm started blaring across the airwaves. I’m not exaggerating when I say my heart sank and my eyes frantically looked out to sea as my legs automatically picked up their pace and headed inland. Of course, it was just a test and the alarm soon stopped. Filling me with an overwhelming sense of relief as well as a sense of “God, Laura, don’t be so melodramatic”. After that, I decided I’d probably had enough of the beach for one day and I headed back to town, in search of food.
The next day I decided to take myself off for a walk along the coastline where I’d hopefully see some seals. Spoiler alert: I saw a grand total of two. The walk was nice enough and most importantly, it was flat. It was also pretty eye opening to see the effects of the earthquake for myself, with a large section of the coastline now protruding a metre higher than it did last year. I walked as far as the old whaling station (Kaikoura was famously a whaling town) where Fyffe House now stands, a pale pink former whaler’s cottage literally built on the vertebrae of dead whales… I mean, I would describe myself as someone who’s very anti whaling so, though I understand it was done when the world was a very different place, I’m not entirely comfortable with the concept!
I did get a good look at a fur seal though, as he slept on the rocks opposite Fyffe house. I also got a good view of him barking at some tourists who got too close and quickly fleed. Seals are pretty ungainly on the land but appearances can be deceiving and I sure as hell wasnt going to get too close. Though they’re not strictly dangerous, they definitely have a good bite on them and it’s not recommended that you get between them and the sea. Luckily, I got some nice shots with my lovely lens from a very comfortable distance!
The next day I would get chance to see them in the water, as I had booked myself onto a sea kayaking trip, designed specifically to get you close to the seals without disturbing them on the land. Kaikoura Kayaks only operate tours for a maximum of eight people so it was a really nice, small bunch. First off though, we had to be briefed on what to do should there be another big earthquake whilst we were out at sea in case this triggered a tsunami. Our options, depending on our timeframe, would have been to quickly paddle back inland and run for the hills (literally) OR we’d have to paddle out to sea and in theory let the wave pass beneath us… I mean, neither option filled me with joy. So as we headed out on our kayaks, I pretended not to be just a little bit terrified.
Luckily, the sight of New Zealand fur seals frolicking in the sea is enough to make you forget any scary thoughts you might have had prior to paddling out. I wish I’d been brave enough to get my camera out more whilst we were out there, but what can I say?The thought of dropping my pride and joy (my camera) into the sea, filled me with far too much anxiety. As we got closer to the seals, one or two began to take notice of us and decided to come over and see us. I’m never going to forget the sight of this big fur seal gazing up at me with his big eyes as he flew through the water beneath my kayak, it felt to almost happen in slow motion, it was amazing. I can’t make you believe how agile they are in the water either, they just glide along but then they can dart in the opposite direction quicker than you blink. Also, they’re a lot bigger than you think. I couldn’t speak when one of them swam underneath me, I was paralysed with joy!
After watching them frolicking around in the bay for a little while, our guide decided to take us a little further out, beyond the breakers. Though I’m admittedly a lot less afraid of the sea than I used to be, I still look upon it with a healthy respect and I did momentarily question what the hell I was doing in a sea kayak smashing through waves, at 9AM on a Monday morning. It was worth it though because we were rewarded with the sight of two tiny NZ blue penguins, happily swimming along in the deep water. They were VERY cute. But yeah, I’m definitely a fan of kayaking now, who knew excercise could be so tolerable?
Following this exercise excursion, I decided that I deserved to treat myself to a lunch of fish and chips, or fush and chups.
The next morning, the crisp air revealed the Kaikoura mountain range that surrounds the town to be snow-capped; a sight that caught me completely off guard because it was so beautiful.
Kaikoura is famous for its rich sea life and I was in town specifically for whale watching. Following the earthquake, the whale watching companies are running tours at a reduced rate so I ended up spending eight days there whilst I waited for a gap on a tour. I’d say whale watching was the number one thing I wanted to do whilst here in New Zealand, so I was pretty happy to wait. And boy, I’m glad I did. You can read about the whale watching tour in a separate post, because it was too monumental a day to summarise in one measly paragraph.
All this waiting around gave me a chance to catch up on a lot of life admin, as well as time to indulge in one of my passions; crafts! Whilst perusing the local shops I found so many things that I wanted to buy for myself, mostly cute little necklaces and such. However, after two months of constant travelling and spending money like there’s no tomorrow, I’ve had to get strict! So, instead of buying myself a little present, I decided I’d make myself one. I bought a little piece of NZ jade for $1 as well as a little bit of leather cord, and crafted myself a cute little choker necklace. I’m missing all my crafty bits that I had to leave at home so it was nice to indulge in a bit of creativity for an afternoon.
Following the whale watching trip though, I had another new experience, one which I’m not keen to experience again anytime soon to be honest. That night, whilst cooking myself some dinner and feeling wobbly, as if I was still on a boat, I found myself stumbling into the cooker. I had this really weird feeling and, as I looked around a bit embarrassed, I noticed that everyone else in the hostel was either sat or stood with the same confused look on their faces. Of course then I realised what had made me stumble and everyone gave each other knowing glances; it was an earthquake! A magnitude 4.5 earthquake had struck 15km west of Kaikoura, causing no damage as far as I know. An earthquake of that magnitude is described as moderate, which is enough for me, thanks very much. I was just relieved not to hear the whirring tones of the tsunami alarm, though believe me I was listening out for it all night. It turns out that the earthquake we felt was still classed as an aftershock from the big one, three months prior, which is pretty scary.
Whilst staying in Kaikoura, I had made arrangements to take up a woofing position out in the Marlborough Sounds, right up in the north of the South Island. Leaving to go North, however, was easier said than done, with the northbound main road still unusable after the earthquake. This left me with one option; I’d have to go back to Christchurch (the exact wrong way) and then catch an eight hour bus on the inland route upto Picton, and then onto my final destination in the sounds… I’m growing pretty tired of buses!
I’ve got to say though, I thought Kaikoura was great and I urge you to visit if you get chance, it’s certainly been a highlight of my trip.