Last of the Summer Wine

We weren’t able to do much forward planning when we booked our flights to New Zealand but there were three places that we knew we just had to go back to; Russ and Kate’s B&B in the North Island, Irene and Murray’s motel in Fox Glacier and Jessica’s cottage, Kincaid, in Kaikoura on the East Coast of the south island. We sort of fitted the rest of our trip around these three fixed points.

One look at the cottage, the mountains behind it, the deep blue sea in front and we were smitten again, as we had been two and a half years ago. Jessica gave us a great big hug then left us to get on with enjoying the location. It’s hard to pin down exactly why we love this place so much. The views all around are incredible and the house has the feel of being a real house not just a rental bach. And it has been immaculately furnished throughout. Jessica is Swedish by birth and has brought to the property the clean simplicity of a Scandanavian home.

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The light streaming in through the kitchen windows in the early morning somehow sets you up for the day. And the evening light on the mountains just relaxes you ready for a good night’s sleep.

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We instantly felt at home, happy and relaxed and the fact that Jessica had very kindly stocked the fridge with a bottle of champagne and some chocolate for her returning guests just added to that sense of coming home. And on top of that there was a large bowl of eggs, fresh from the hens and a load of vegetables growing in the cottage garden just waiting for us to harvest them.

Kaikoura itself is in a superb location. Protected from Westerlies by the Seaward Kaikoura Range, a branch of the Southern Alps which come down almost to the sea along the coast here, it is also blessed with some of the richest waters for marine and bird life. This also makes it a mecca for tourists and it was very crowded in town so for the most part we stayed out at Kincaid, which is a few klms away from the hurly burly.

The closeness of the mountains here abouts means that there are many walking tracks up into them. Some, like Mt Fyffe we have done before, but this visit we spent more time seeking out side roads off the main highway and then finding tracks from these. At Clarence we took a 4WD track up the Clarence river and high into the hills giving us stunning views of the Kaikoura Range. We also couldn’t resist going up the Blue Duck Valley Road. The Blue Duck is one of only a handful of so called Torrent Duck in the world. It lives not on lakes or the sea but in fast flowing upland rivers and is quite a rarity. Sadly, we didn’t find the duck but we did have a wonderful walk through the trees, across a stream and up on an old farm track to a saddle where we could picnic with views of the mountains looking one way and the sea the other.

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Kaikoura is a wildlife hotspot. On the gravelly beach at South Bay you get the diminutive Banded Dottrel nesting among the gulls and camper vans whilst out at sea there are several species of albatross, various shags (cormorants), petrels, gulls, little blue penguin and the rare Huttons Shearwater which breeds only in the Seaward Kaikoura Range so high up that it took a mountaineer to discover their breeding ground in the first place.

Kaikoura’s waters are nutrient rich because of a deep submarine canyon which lies just off shore meaning that it can support a wide variety of sea life. Right by where you park the car to begin the Kaikoura Peninsula walk you find many recumbant seals, seemingly oblivious to the tourists around them.

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And on the walk itself you can drop into small bays where, with luck, a seal will haul itself up right in front of you, give you a stare which says keep your distance buddy, and proceed to scratch itself for 20 minutes before settling down for a good snooze.

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Further out at sea there are planes and choppers circling and looking through the binoculars you can see quite distinctly the blow of a whale. Sperm Whales are resident here year round but other whales make an appearance from time to time, particularly the Humpback. Only one company is licensed to spot whales at sea here in order to protect the whales from too much disturbance because they do turn up no more than half or an hour away from shore.

In the same way, Kaikoura Encounters is the only company licensed to make Seabird spotting tours, which we did in 2013, and Dolphin watching/swimming tours. You might think that this monopoly position might mean that they charge very steep prices but, actually, their rates are very reasonable and the tours are very popular. So popular that the swimming with doplphins tour was fully booked until the end of February. Each tour is restricted to a maximum of only 16 swimmers but they also take a few ‘observers’.

We hesitated slightly about taking a tour because, in other countries dolphins are enticed to interact with humans by offering food and this changes their wild behaviour. But Encounters assured us they run their tours on responsible lines so we took the plunge. Without actually taking a plunge, if you see what I mean.

A number of species of dolphin can be found in these waters but the most abundant by far is the Dusky dolphin and once underway Callum, the captain, told us we’d only have to travel for half an hour or so before coming upon the pod about 10 nautical miles south of Kaikoura. And sure enough, those of us observers up on the top deck began to see splashes up ahead whilst the 16 swimmers, some looking a little nervous in their wetsuits, waited to be told when they could slide into the water. And all of a sudden we were surrounded by Duskies.

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Everywhere you looked they were swimming, diving and leaping because Duskies really are quite a playful dolphin. As the captain said to the swimmers, you are entering their world. If they want to play they will. If not they will simply move on.

But these lovely creatures didn’t move on; they simply swam around some leaping high in the air, seemingly quite happy to have rubber suited humans wallowing in their wake, making all sorts of noises through their snorkel masks to attract the dolphins’ attention.

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Those of us on board joined in by hollering, banging on the side of the boat and clicking our tongues whilst giggling at the noises the swimmers were making. And the dolphins definitely did respond. As Callum said, they live in a world of sound and they certainly didn’t seem stressed or upset by our presence.

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Would I have liked to have been in the water with the dolphins? Of course I would but observing and photographing a huge pod of at least 250 lovely looking, engaging and entertaining mammals was just so much fun. All too soon the captain announced it was time to leave as the time you’re allowed to spend with the dolphins is strictly limited. But even as we left a small group of Hectors dolphin, the smallest marine dolphin in the world turned up to crown a great day out.

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There is, though, one other sea creature for which Kaikoura is famous. In Maori the name Kaikoura means ‘meal of crayfish’, which we know as lobster, and these tasty creatures abound in the waters here abouts. Now, you can don on some diving gear and go and catch the crayfish yourself, although, once again, the numbers and size of crustacean you can take are strictly controlled. Or, you can do what we did and drive 20 or so klms out to Nin’s BIn and let her sell you some.

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At enormous cost, admittedly but you just can’t come to Kaikoura and not have a meal of Crayfish. Especially when you have been carefully carrying around a Nautilus Cuvee Marlborough Vintage Rose ever since you left Marlborough back in January especially for this one moment.

So, cue sunset on the Seaward Kaikoura, a warm, balmy evening, two glorious glasses of champagne and a delicious crayfish salad. The last of our summer wine. That’ll do usimage

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