Kaikoura cruising

December 2022

This year’s Aunty/Nephew Christmas trip turned in to the inaugural Aunty/Niece trip, as Isabel, my 12 year old niece stepped in to replace my nephew who is clearly now too cool for these kind of things lol. 

We decided to spend a few days in Kaikōura, a small coastal town around 2.30 hours north of Christchurch and well known for its water activities and wildlife encounters and of course all good road trip start with a detour – today, this was to visit the aptly named Cathedral Gully and the perfectly formed Gore Bay.

Once off the main highway, on to the Gore Bay Tourist Drive, a narrow windy country road until we came upon the view point for the gully.  It is just on the side of the road so no excuse not to stop and admire the “Badlands” topography.  Some of the rocks that we see here are about 2 million years old!!!  That blows my mine!!

After a quick stop in Gore Bay to see the beach, we were back on the road for the final scenic stretch to Kaikōura. 

Kaikōura has a permanent population of just over 2,000 but not surprisingly this number swells in the summer months as people flock there to enjoy the incredibly rich water and wildlife.  Famous not only for it’s whale and dolphin encounters but also for its abundance of seafood, in particular crayfish.  Kaikōura actually translates to ‘kai’ = food and ‘kōura’ = crayfish.

There is evidence of Māori occupation in the area back to the 1600s and the early European settlers arrived in the mid 1800’s to set up whaling stations.  As you can see, whales have been bringing people to the area for over 150 years.

As you may recall, in November 2016, Kaikōura was heavily damaged in a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.  The town was completely cut off as both road and rail links were badly damaged.  The bay and surrounding areas were lifted up by as much as 2 metres!!  It took almost a month to repair the road into the town, but today you would barely know it had happened.

We may a quick stop at a view point over the town and peninsula, before checking in to our small cabin in the Top 10 campground and walking the short distance to town to wait for a pickup for our unique afternoon activity with Kaikoura Llama trekking.

We were picked up by our Llama guide and his llamas and drove down to the end of the town where we disembarked the van and met our llamas for the walk.   The experience started with the ‘funny 15 mintues’.  This is the time where the llamas get used to area and suss out any possible dangers (including us) and where we get used to our llamas and their personalities.  They were very skittish about everything near by – people walking, cars, wind … on one hand it is not surprising, but on the other hand, they do this frequently so I did think they would be more accustomed to the route.

Once we were both settled in, we could all begin to enjoy the experience.  We were somewhat of celebrities (or should I say the llamas were lol).  Everyone we passed were surprised to see them and were keen to stop and take photos of us with our llamas.  In fact, we were walking with an actual ‘celebrity’ – the other people with us were a mother and her 8 year old daughter who had just flown in from America for a holiday.  Turns out, the girl was an actor, who had been in a very popular US programme – I am not sure anyone recognised her though (I certainly didn’t).

While walking, the cloud cleared from the mountains and it was stunning – a perfect Kaikoura afternoon, followed by a chilled evening at the campground.  (Top 10 campgrounds in New Zealand are great – always great facilities and awesome playgrounds.  I grew up having camping holidays and have very fond memories of the freedom of running around, making new friends. Isabel seemed to enjoy that as well.)

The following morning was beautiful and still – perfect of our morning adventure – kayaking with Kaikoura Kayaks.   It seemed like a popular activity and there was a large group of people checking in and getting set up in the office in town but it was all very efficient and we were soon on our way around to South Bay where we were kitted up and given a briefing about the kayaks and how to use them.

Once divided in to smaller groups, it didn’t actually seem like there were a lot of people and we set off out of the sheltered bay and out in to the great Pacific ocean.  We saw NZ fur seals on land and playing in the sea, giant petrels feeding, terns diving, the cutest baby black backed gull and some very cool jelly fish.  All in all it was a great morning paddle.

After lunch back at the campground we headed back out for what turned out to be a very long walk!!  We took a similar route to our llama walk the day before and not surprisingly, bumped into the llamas out for another walk – we were sure they remembered us 😂

Dinner this evening was a Kaikoura classic – fish and chips on the beach.  The beach in Kaikoura is a stony but beautiful, with wild big waves crashing on it.  With the sun setting behind the mountains that flow down into the ocean it was the perfect ending to a great day.

Our last morning was windy and overcast and we were even more grateful for the perfect kayaking day the day before. But not to miss an opportunity for adventure, we took a detour on the way home to explore.  A friend of Isabel’s had told her about a walk that took you through a stream in an area called “Stag and Spey”.  She did not know a lot of detail and I could hardly find anything about it online but we decided to go for it anyway, starting with a 20-30km drive along a gravel road, aptly called Stag and Spey Road.

It was drizzling slightly when we reached the end of the road and there was no signs (well, none that helped) and no obvious track.  Thankfully, I had found some vague instructions in a random post that said ‘walk in the river downstream” and then “go left at the fork”!

It was around 10 minutes downstream – mostly in the river and following a few footprints we could see on the narrow bank area.  We turned left at the fork and continued to walk upstream for a further 15 minutes.  There was supposed to be a waterfall somewhere but as we had no idea where it was, we decided to turn around at this point.  It would be a great place to go on a hot day as we passed lots of great swimming holes. 

We stopped in silence a couple of times and just listened to the sounds of nature around us – the slow running river, bird song, and light rain.  It was a great adventure and we both loved it. Back at the car we enjoyed some left over sausages and discussed the dirty state of my car!  I told her how I loved having a dirty car, as it made me feel like I live an exciting, adventurous life – Isabel replied ‘but you do’. I love that ❤️ 

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