Photo by @albertrenn
It is still a bit baffling to me that I had never been to Kaikōura, a quaint seaside town on the East Coast of the South Island. It's only a 2 and a half hour drive North from Christchurch and is home to some of my favourite animals… Whales!
There's no denying it... It may be small, but Kaikōura has been through a lot.
On the 14th of November 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ruptured the town at 12:01AM. I can remember that night so clearly. I was living in Wellington at the time and had just been to Paraparaumu to watch my friends perform Grease The Musical that had been touring around New Zealand. The lovely Bronwyn had just dropped me back at my flat and I was lying on my bed, most likely thinking about how I really felt like some chocolate, when the whole house began to shake. My flatmates and I all huddled under our door frames while our stuff went flying off the shelves. I had been in Christchurch for multiple aftershocks so I wasn’t a stranger to the odd earth wobble, but this was something else. For some reason, standing felt too unsafe, so I crawled to the kitchen to get a bag of corn chips and a bottle of whiskey and we sat in our door frames for most of the next hour. The tsunami alert followed and a lot of Wellington was instructed to vacate their areas. We were living in Newtown and that was deemed to be safe from a possible tsunami, so we piled our mattresses into the living room, invited my Canadian friends over (this was their first earthquake!), and turned on the telly. The epicentre was around 250kms away. If this was how scared and shaken up (excuse the pun) (okay sorry but yeah the pun was totally intended) we were feeling, how must Kaikōura be feeling?
According to the BBC, the 2 minute earthquake has been described by scientists as the “most complicated earthquake ever studied.” From the scientists’ investigations, apparently 21 fault lines were broken during the quake, including some that hadn’t even been mapped yet. Earthquake ecologist Dr. Kate Clark said that this is possibly a world record. Two people died in the earthquake, many were injured, multiple buildings ruined beyond repair, and Kaikōura was completely cut off from the rest of New Zealand. All roads in and out were destroyed due to landslides, broken bridges, uplifted rail lines, and falling debris. It was an absolute disaster. One that no one will forget in a hurry that’s for sure.
State Highway 1 reopened on December 21 in 2017, but only during daylight hours. The road is open now, but repairs and construction were still happening when Jonas and I adventured there in the middle of June 2020.
And now, just as the town is getting back on its feet… COVID19 strikes. ‘Rona you little shit. I’ve got some serious words to have with you!
I had already planned to get to Kaikōura as soon as domestic travel opened up again, but after watching a Sunday feature about Kaikōura and the effects of COVID19, I was even more convinced!
We were only there for one rainy day and night, but we crammed so much in. I can’t wait to go back in the summertime.
Before we get any further just a small disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will make a small commission if you decide to make a purchase. Thanks for supporting me as I try to get this blog a happening thing!
Here’s what you need to know...
IF YOU NEED A PLACE TO SLEEP
Accommodation can lean more on the expensive side in Kaikōura, so we stayed at the
in a private room with ensuite. I loved it there! Great vibe (except for the backpackers that burnt their breakfast sausages at 8:30AM in the morning causing the smoke alarms to be activated and the local fire brigade to be dispatched. It also resulted in me putting my track pants on backwards while I was hurriedly exiting the room remembering everything I learnt from primary school fire alarms: “Leave your bags!” “Don’t run!” What a way to wake up!)
But feel free to check out booking.com for more hotel and motel options
As well as over on AirBnb there are plenty of cute places to stay.
(Click here for up to $90NZD towards your first AirBnB trip!)
And of course, there's always the option to hire a campervan and get acquainted with nature! You can read all about New Zealand campervan hire right here!
ACTIVITIES TO KEEP YOU BUSY
Find out more on the official website
ADULTS $12 | GOLD CARD, STUDENTS, COMMUNITY SERVICE CARD $10 | CHILDREN $6 | FAMILY (2 ADULTS AND UP TO 4 SCHOOL AGED CHILDREN $30
Did you know that New Zealand frogs don’t have ears?! And that’s why they don’t croak!? Not to be mistaken for the Australian frogs who do have ears though. I learnt that from this museum and I have pulled that fact out on many occasions!
Now, I’m no stranger to a museum. Over on my instagram stories, I occasionally share my museum experiences. There are a few of my followers who absolutely love it! (Bit niche, but I’m here for it!) So speaking with the authority of a museum connoisseur, this museum was wonderful. A large exhibition on the Kaikōura Earthquakes (I’m ashamed to admit I really didn’t know much about it at all!) and another room full of historical things (for lack of a better word?) and loads of animal information.
Also, did you know that Kaikōura has an underwater cliff face only 500m from the shore!? The Kaikōura and Hikurangi Trench is one of the deepest underwater canyons IN THE WORLD! Ngati Kuri believe that the Kaikōura Canyon was created by the God Marokura and the area is known as Te Tai o Marokura (the seas of Marokura.)
That slice of info was from the museum, too! A geologist’s dream I tell ya! Maybe I should restudy and become a geologist...?
SEALS! SO MANY SEALS! GO AND LOOK AT THE SEALS!
One VERY excited Jess!
One place you’re guaranteed to see seals is only a short drive to the end of the Fyffe Quay.
But there are a few things you need to remember when observing the seals...
Seals can spend up to 3 weeks out at sea hunting and living their best lives. When they come to shore they are here to sleep and rest. They don’t need four million tourists screaming and taking photos right up in their faces!
YOU MUST KEEP YOUR DISTANCE (Just like we all should be during covid life anyway…) Stay at least 10m away from the seals at Point Kean, and 20m everywhere else.
DO NOT DISTURB THEM! The seals at Point Kean are not breeding seals so are likely to be less aggressive, however if provoked they can give you one of those delicious infected bites of theirs. No one has time for that.
It should go without saying, but DO NOT TOUCH A SEAL
And please keep your dogs in your car.
How to get there!
Another place there are usually seals is Ohau Point. This is the place to go to see seals and their pups frolicking in the water. It’s around 26kms from the centre of town, it should take around 25 minutes to drive there, but keep in mind the road works happening along the way. Plenty of car parks are available here.
Perhaps you've been googling and yes, you’re right. This IS where you can watch the seal pups swim up the stream and play in a waterfall. However, DO NOT attempt to walk the Ohau Stream Walk at this time! “The Ohau Stream Walk is unsafe due to earthquake damage and is closed until further notice. This is a long term alert,” says DOC. You can find more information here.
There are literally HUNDREDS of seals down below on the rocks for you to admire, anyway!
(I've decided to not post a photo of it, so if you go there you are in for the surprise of your life! There were SO many! SO MANY BABY SEALS!)
One of these seals is not like the others...
POINT KEAN VIEWPOINT
Due to the slight drizzle and the heavy rain threat, we walked up the hill to the Point Kean Viewpoint - which I highly recommend - and attempted to carry on but the ground conditions were horrible. It was really muddy and slippery. My balance is a bit funny at the best of times… So I wasn’t going to risk it!
To access the walking tracks, start from the carpark at the end of Fyyfe Quay. From here you can walk up the hill (200m) to the Point Kean Viewpoint where you can see both the sea and the mountains (except if it’s raining like when we did it!) You can carry on the Cliff Top Walk to Whalers Bay Viewpoint where you can descend down to Whalers Bay, or keep walking to the South Bay Viewpoint. The sign says that the track to South Bay is fully accessible and has an information shelter and public toilets, but I didn’t do this so I can not vouch for that! Then, you can walk from South Bay all the way to the town centre! To do the whole walk I imagine it takes just over 2 hours.
Estimated walk times
Point Kean Viewpoint - 200m | 5 min
Point Kean Viewpoint to Whalers Bay Viewpoint - 1.5km | 25 min
Whalers Bay Viewpoint to South Bay Viewpoint - 1.1km | 20 min
South Bay Viewpoint to South Bay car park - 600m | 15 min
There are public toilets in the Fyffe Quay car park.
Sperm Whales live off the shore near Kaikōura year round and from my researching I have learnt that depending on the season you may see Humpback Whales, Pilot Whales, Blue Whales and Southern Right Whales. There will potentially also be Orca/Killer Whales, which (as I learnt in the town’s museum) are actually dolphins! Orcas get a bit of a bad rep out there in the sea world for hurting everything and anything, but they won’t attack humans (unless provoked!)
Unfortunately with the ever changing COVID restrictions, Whale Watch Kaikōura wasn’t up and running when we were there, but I believe it’s open now (and at level 2 all staff wear masks and they are running at a smaller capacity to be able to safely maintain social distancing.)
While Whale Watch Kaikōura can’t guarantee that you will see a whale, they do have a 95% success rate AND they will even give you an 80% refund if you don’t see one! Now that’s service!
There are numerous other tour providers, as well as whale watching from the sky. A quick google or a trip to the information iSite centre in the middle of town will help guide you to who is open and taking bookings at the moment, whatever the government's alert level may be.
I will say though that the general feel during COVID times is that places are open only during the weekends. So it's best to phone ahead if you are only traveling during the week.
WHY NOT CAFE
66 West End
A classic NZ bakery with a breakfast and lunch menu and, of course, coffee. They even have gluten free bread! It was a great kiwi breakfast.
50 West End
Obviously what sold me was the immediate signs of gluten free options, especially the gluten free garlic flat bread option! But we were also looking for seafood as Jonas is into that sort of thing, and when in Kaikōura, you must get fresh seafood!
Side note: Jonas got the fish and chips and the mussels. I got the gluten free flat bread, a bowl of fries and a side salad. It turns out the flat bread was not an entree but the size of a giant pizza. We had severely over ordered and I thought I was going to need to be rolled out of there. Perhaps stick to the one meal each! But look, you do you.
See what I mean about the flatbread!?
18 West End
We didn’t go here but “Poppy” was featured on the Sunday special that I watched on TVNZ before going. She has actually sold the business since then, but this ice creamery and cafe looks AMAZING and I’ll be sure to go next time!
I received a really lovely DM on instagram recently from someone who followed our adventures to Kaikōura, loved the seals, and was hoping to take their family there someday soon. I love hearing stories like this! Covid is really rough. Not just for the tourism providers but for everyone. If you can (and as I type I'm currently in level 3 in Auckland, essentially in lockdown but with takeaway pizzas) get out in nature, explore the backyard and soak up all of the goodness New Zealand (or your country/state/city) has to offer!
Sometimes we forget that our homes are destinations for people too. I was reminded of this recently. So I’m making an effort to try and see local places with my tourist hat on.
Stay safe and until next Monday,
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