New Zealand, Part 5: Kaikoura

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I’ve hesitated to write this story about the seaside town of Kaikoura which was so dramatically hit by earthquakes a couple weeks ago.  But now I think it’s time to talk about it.  My daughter Halley and I visited only a month before the devastating quakes. It’s a lovely place and I’m so glad we included it on this recent trip.  We drove down from Nelson after receiving a tip from our kayaking guide.  She told us about the seal pup reserve along the coast on Highway 1.  It was an unplanned adventure and we had a little trouble finding the spot.  All the bays  seemed to look alike and we made a few wrong turns.  We were looking for a place that started with the letter ‘O” so when we arrived at Okiwi it seemed right to us.

Okiwi Bay and Highway 1

Okiwi Bay and Highway 1

We quickly realized we wouldnt find seal pups up on the lookout point where I stood to shoot this photo.  What is interesting now as I look at the scene is the view of the road, the railway tracks and the tunnel.  I wonder if there was a landslide here and if it all looks different now.  For that matter is the hill on which I was standing also now down on the beach?  It’s rather startling to think about it.

At the time we weren’t thinking about earthquakes; we were looking for seals.  We drove just a short distance around the point and down the road and came to Ohau Stream just north of Half Moon Bay.  Finally, we found the right spot.  We walked along the stream up into the forest and found the waterfall and pool. There was one pup left; all the others had left.  This little fellow was dawdling.

Baby seal splashing in the pool

Baby seal splashing in the pool north of Kaikoura

The best time to see the seal pups is April through September.  I sure hope this little guy left before November.  I’ve read that this pool has been buried but Ohau Stream is still flowing.  I count my blessings that I was able to see the pool and also send a silent thank you to my Nelson guide for telling us about it.

We spent the night just outside Kaikoura…in a treehouse.  I wasn’t expecting that either.  I thought Hapuku Lodge would be a nice place to stay but I had no idea just how special.  I’ve never stayed in a treehouse before.

Our rental car in front of our treehouse

Our rental car in front of our treehouse

There were five treehouses and each had its own name, ours was called Kotare, named after the kingfisher bird.  I probably don’t have to mention this, but just in case you’re wondering, I will. There are no elevators in a treehouse.  Yes, you do climb the stairs.  I’ve read that the lodge and treehouses did not suffer any structural damage as a result of the Kaikoura earthquakes and will be open to guests on December 1st.  That’s great news.  Now you too, can stay there!

A row of treehouses at Hapuka Lodge

A row of treehouses at Hapuka Lodge

Our main reason for visiting Kaikoura was to go whale watching and we weren’t disappointed.  I’ve gone whale watching along the coast of California and seen mostly seagulls.  I had higher hopes for success in Kaikoura, but still I was dubious.  We were looking for sperm whales.  As near as I can tell, there are a lot more gray whales off the coast of California and I haven’t had much luck seeing those.  Surely seeing a sperm whale would be really amazing.

Sperm whale on the surface off the coast of Kaikoura

Sperm whale on the surface off the coast of Kaikoura

Okay, I believe.  Not only did we see one whale, we saw three!  It was a fantastic experience.  Of course there was some concern that the animals would leave the area after the earthquakes but they’re back.  The dolphins and seals and the whales are returning.

It will take time to put things to rights in Kaikoura but I too will return one day.  In the meantime I’m so glad I had the chance to visit when I did.  This only serves to remind me not to sit at home wishing to visit a city or a national park.  There’s no time like now.  One never knows when it may be changed forever.

To see more photos from this story click here.


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