Thursday, 20 June 2013

Kaikoura 1-3 June

It's the Queen's Birthday w/e and she's kindly given us the Monday off so we decide to go to Kaikoura for the w/e. We had driven through on the way down to Christchurch at Easter but only stopped for lunch and didn't explore the area so we decide to return. It’s about a 3 hour drive north and much of the latter part of the journey is beside the coast so wonderful views along the way.

The beach at Kaikoura with snow-topped mountain range across the bay
We arrive for a fish & chip lunch, then after dumping car and bags at our b&b, decide to do a wander around the Kaikoura Peninsular Walkway, going past the seal colony. Last time we’d seen only one or two seals but at this time of year there are hundreds lolling around on the rocks and dipping in and out of the water. The peninsular is surrounded on three sides by rocky limestone tables and small sandy coves and at the seal colony you climb from the shore up to the tops of the cliffs, so great views along the coast in both directions.

View from the top of the Peninsular Walkway. Whale Bay is to the right. There are many seals dotted around this coast
but too distant to see
At Whale Bay we descend steps, planning to return along the limestone slabs at sea level. It’s a beautiful calm place in the pearly afternoon light. We notice a couple down on the beach and approach them to see what they’re collecting. They have handfuls of what they call ‘Les Yeux des Lucie’ (they're French). We couldn’t work out exactly what they were: my best guess being fossils, so we begin searching for them too, ending up with 20 or 30 in my pockets.

Looking for fossils in the cliffs on the way down to Whale Bay

Eventually we tear ourselves away, pockets full, and continue walking back around the coast over the rocks. Rounding a rock at the foot of the cliff we virtually bump into a large aggressive bull seal who barks and charges at us. Mike rushes through along the path but I hang back effectively cutting myself off. Luckily another couple are also walking past and a kind kiwi woman takes my hand and we walk briskly past the barking beast.
Further along we turn a corner and the evening sun breaks out below the cloud bathing everything in a glorious soft orange glow.

Sun breaking through

Soft light at sunset on the walk back to Kaikoura

Next morning we booked into a whale watching trip but rough seas are forecast so we decide to cancel. Instead we drive up the coast a little to see the seal cub nursery. Mike’s been here before and I’ve seen some film of the spectacle, really something not to be missed. We park the car and it’s about a 10 minute walk up alongside a stream to the pool which is below a waterfall.
Seething with seals

On the way up there are baby seals clambering up or down the stream. They are born where the stream meets the sea and while being weaned they use the stream and pool as a nursery gaining skills and developing their strength for life out at sea. How many years this has been happening isn’t clear but it’s a famous natural phenomenon around here and one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. The pool below  is fairly big and is literally seething with sleek little bodies ducking and diving, flipping over and doing somersaults in the air. The most spectacular show, and they’re doing it all just for fun. They obviously become used to visitors watching them and are not the least afraid, some coming out of the water to sniff the feet of the onlookers. Amazing!!

This afternoon the sun’s coming out and we take our picnic lunch to the far side of the Kaikoura peninsular then follow the walkway in the opposite direction, avoiding encounters with seals.
Walkway from southside
On our last morning we walk along the coast north of Kaikoura, beside an old railway track, hoping to get to the bluffs in the distance but we come to a dead end at a tunnel and have to retrace our steps. Early settlers must have lived on this patch of ground between cliffs and the coast as we come upon a grave dated 1846 with George Allbright carved on the headstone. There’s no sign of a house but the undergrowth is pretty dense and anything could be buried under the tangled mass of Banana Passionflower that covers the area with its beautiful dark pink flowers and pendulous fruit.

Proof that the coastline is eroding: a whole train with tracks lie on the beach below the footpath with a new tracks the other side
The beautiful flowers of the Banana Passionflower, native of South America which is unfortunately becoming a weed in
New Zealand, threatening native species. We tried the fruit but it was very sharp, maybe unripe

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