Friday, 31 August 2012

Eat crayfish

Located on the rugged east coast of the South Island, Kaikōura is best known for its rich selection of marine life and stunning coastal scenery where the Kaikōura Ranges provide a fantastic backdrop. The place actually takes is name from the Māori words "kai" (food) and "koura" (crayfish) or "eat crayfish", which was the name given by the Māori explorer, Tama ki-te-Raki, when he stopped there to eat whilst in pursuit of his three runaway wives around the South Island! Kaikōura is also part of the Alpine Pacific Triangle, which is a touring route that takes you to Waipara and Hamner Springs.

The Kaikōura Ranges reflected in the Lyell Creek flood channel

Visiting Kaikōura is a new experience for us as we didn't come this far northeast when we originally arrived in Christchurch 5 years ago, instead we went clockwise round the South Island and eventually headed to Picton to take the ferry across to the North Island. To make the most of our time, we decided to spend one of our days doing the Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway. The walkway was created to provide easy access to explore the peninsula (Taumanu o Te Waka a Maui). There's a useful Department of Conservation brochure that you can pick up in the i-SITE for $2 (also free from the DOC website), which gives you information and interesting facts about the Kaikōura Peninsula. The walk ideally takes at least 3 hours to complete, as this gives you enough time to explore and enjoy the features of the walkway.

Starting from the town centre, there's a footpath which follows the Esplanade round to Point Kean (Te Rae o Tawhiti). To be honest this was the least interesting part of the walk as it took you through quite a lot of residential area by the sea.

Looking back towards the Kaikōura Ranges from the Esplanade 

Low lying clouds clinging onto the peaks 

Lizzie in the Garden of Memories with some whale bone arches

Waves crashing against the Esplanade and the new wharf

Shags perched on the one of limestone formations around the peninsula

Te Tai o Marokura (the ocean) claiming a fallen tree

Once we reached Jimmy Armers Beach there was some interesting historical information on an interpretation sign about the whaling heritage of the area. Apparently, Waiopuka Beach (Jimmy Armers Beach) is a whale cemetery. Occasionally stormy seas and high tides flow into the Waiopuka Stream and uncover whale bones associated with the whaling station that was set up here over a century ago. There was a sign by the beach warning visitors that it is against the law to take whale bones from this beach partly due to the historical significance of the archaeological site.

Walking further round to Point Kean there was a boardwalk that we followed until we could go no further as there was an extremely large fur seal blocking the way and before we knew it we had reached the seal colony - it was a sight to behold!

Erm, excuse me you're blocking the path!

There were seals all over the place, on the stony beach, in the car park and pups playing on the rocks. New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) are widespread throughout the country and are known as Kekeno to the Māori.

Cuter than its fishy smell would have you believe

Seal pups relaxing on the rocks

Basking in the sunshine

The seals must wonder why everyone is so interested in them

We read quite a few signs advising us saying stay at least 10 metres away from the seals as they can give a nasty bite, especially if they feel cornered or unable to get to the sea, which isn't surprising as they are wild animals. However, this didn't stop the occasional idiot from committing an act of stupidity - one guy was snarled at for getting too close, it was a shame he wasn't bitten for good measure!

As nice as it is to watch the seals they're wild animals at heart


A really great place to see fur seal pups (dependent on the time of year) is at the Ohau Waterfall Track, which is a short distance from the seal colony at Ohau Point lookout, 17km north of Kaikōura off State Highway 1. If you're there at the right time of year its possible to see hundreds of seals pups playing in a pool underneath a spectacular 30m waterfall. The pups have no fear of people and some of them will even come over from the pool and have a sniff before heading off and putting on a show in the "nursery".

It's a bit of an unusual sight to see the pups in a forested area, as they're an animal you would normally associate with the sea, but it obviously provides them with a safe haven whilst their mothers are off fishing.

Possibly the best free seal watching experience in New Zealand

Carefree seal pups playing around in the pool underneath the waterfall

Ohau Point is the largest breeding colony of fur seals around Kaikōura
Fur seals treat man-made objects as part of their habitat

Fur seals are ‘eared’ (otariid) seals, named for their external earflaps

Seal pups frolicking in the rock pools before the next big wave hits

Coming back to the peninsula walk, there's a 5 minute walk uphill from the Point Kean car park which takes you to a lookout platform that provides a fantastic view of the mountains and the sea. Supposedly, it's possible to see the North Island on a clear day!

The snow-capped peaks of the Seaward Kaikōura Mountains

Looking down the tidal platforms at high tide

Beyond the lookout platform the track follows the cliff top giving excellent views of cliff formations, tidal platforms and the seaward Kaikōura Range. It was really windy up on the cliff tops and strong waves were battering the coastline - I don't think Lizzie enjoyed being blown around, but it all seriousness the peninsula is very exposed to coastal winds so wearing warm, windproof clothing is advisable.

Some parts of the shoreline walk are impassable at high tide

It'd be interesting to see how big the waves get on a stormy day! 

As part of a detour from the main route we walked down a stairway to Whalers Bay, which used to be a former whalers' route down to the shoreline. Down by the shoreline was another colony of seals, although this time there was a sign warning that a colony of Hutton's Shearwaters was also nesting and that they shouldn't be disturbed. Apparently, Kaikōura is the only place in the world where the endangered Hutton Shearwaters breed!

"The Sugarloaf " is a prominent landmark you're not meant to climb

The raw power of the ocean

Keeping my distance from the seals it was a bit surreal to watch them relaxing and sleeping on the rocks with all the chaos of the ocean around them.

It's a hard life being a seal!

Not even a care in the world

Returning back to the clifftop walk via the same track, we headed round to the South Bay viewpoint where you can see the Seaward Kaikōura Ranges. Descending towards Atia Point (part of a historic pa site) the pathway was elevated above the tidal platforms at Limestone Bay, before we reached the archway at the South Bay carpark and headed back towards the town centre.

Looking across Limestone Bay to Atia Point (Te Rae o Atiu)
Out towards Goose Bay with the Kaikōura Ranges along the coast

The Kaikōura Peninsula is rich in over 800 years of Māori tradition and the ocean off the peninsula is named Te Tai o Marokura - the ocean of Marokura. This forms an important part of the cultural history and identity of the Ngati Kuri tribe. The archway powhenua as you walk up the entrance path at South Bay depicts the legend of Māui fishing in his canoe and pulling up the house of Tangaroa (the god of the sea). Legend has it that Maui also used the Kaikōura Peninsula as a foothold to brace himself when he fished the North Island out of the sea.

Lizzie standing underneath the South Bay archway powhenua

Another striking carving of the mythological hero Māui in his canoe

Tidal limestone platform

Up above the whalebone arch

On a separate day we drove out to Mt Fyffe (named after Scottish-born Robert Fyffe who established the first shore-whaling station in Kaikōura) and the Kowhai Valley, 15km from town. The drive to the Mt Fyffe car park wasn't particuarly forgiving on the car as it took ages along an unsealed road which was poorly signed. When we did arrive we had the option of walking the Hīnau Track a 45 min loop (1 km) through some native forest including hīnau trees, māhoe, putaputawētā, broadleaf, tree fuchsia and pigeonwood but we opted to try the Mt Fyffe walk. We knew but didn't have enough time to reach the top as it would take 5 hours to reach the 1602m summit so we thought we would try and at least reach the lookout which would take an hour to reach.

The track was a bit hard going at first, with no let up in the steepness so Lizzie felt quite tired especially with all the walking we did round the peninsula. There were quite a few benches to stop and admire the vistas over Kaikōura and the Seaward Kaikōura mountains but not very good views of the summit.

The Seaward Kaikōura Ranges from one of the lookouts

Looking across the Kowhai Valley east towards the ocean 

It didn't take long for the daylight to run out for us and we were a bit conscious that we didn't want to be walking back down the mountain in the dark. Overall it was a bit of anti-climax, maybe we should have stuck to watching the sunset at Point Kean lookout.

Mt Fyffe from Postmans Road

Despite the slight disappointment of the final day the stunning Kaikōura Ranges are one of the most enduring memories of Kaikōura for me...

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