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By Kip Brook, Word of Mouth Media NZ
Finally, I hit one smack in the middle. My drive on a nifty par four rises like a Jumbo Jet, far and high in the sky. But I lose sight of the golf ball. Instead I’m caught gazing at the majestic snow-capped Kaikoura mountains. To my right I hear the waves crashing on the shore.
This is Kaikoura: and it’s paradise. This is hardly New Zealand’s best kept tourist destination secrets – a million people stop and pass through Kaikoura every year.
It’s a little seaside township of barely 4000 people. But it is fast developing into a tourist destination. This cosy coastal settlement has its name flung worldwide because of whale watching. One hundred years ago they used to kill whales; now people just look at them. Whale watching is a big business.
But I digress. I putt out for a regulation par but have played poorly as usual and I grab my trundle and walk back to The Fairways at Ocean Ridge, a divine resort apartment destination where I am staying. The aptly name Fairways, on the edge of the gold course, is run by Stephan Rattray, who is in a race to become the town’s new mayor. He is bright, young and genial and has the area at heart. The Fairways is part of Ocean Ridge where they have planted 170,000 native plants among the walkways around the area. It’s a fantastic project.
But that’s not unusual in Kaikoura where they have one of the best recovery recycling centres in the country. Kaikoura is big on eco-tourism, green glob e measures and they try to keep the town as natural as possible, without it being over-run by tourists.
It’s just two hours’ drive from Christchurch’s international airport and is one of the most breathtaking locations of any town in New Zealand. Its towering, craggy snow capped mountains that plunge deep into the Pacific Ocean where whales, dolphins, seals and marine life thrive.
I stroll along the beach right next to the main street and see a sleepy seal was lazing on the sand. Out at Southbay, sperm whales dive for food. They are the biggest of the toothed whales and the world’s largest carnivore. They are equivalent in size to four elephants. World famous Whale Watch boats take you up close to giant sperm whales. Their 95 percent success rate means they guarantee an 80 percent refund if you don’t see a whale. I just love the play on words that their headquarters is in the town’s railway station, renamed the Whaleway Station.
Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world where sperm whales can be seen year-round and close to shore. One of these monsters consumes over 900kg of food a day.
Today I go crayfishing with Ian Croucher, who runs Southbay fishing charters. He’s a top bloke. We belt across the water in his Coastal Experience boat and lift a couple of pots to get some big crayfish. Ian says the crayfish (lobster) areas abundant as ever.
"I think it’s because we have more seals about now. The seals eat octopus and the octopus eat the crays but the seals have been dealing to the octopus so we have heavy quantities of crayfish now.’’
He takes out tourists – usually six at a time - and they catch sea perch, blue cod or red cod with clients and occasionally a whale pops up close by. They often see dolphins, seals, orca (killer whale), and little blue penguins.
Satisfied with my cray, I head back to The Fairways apartment to boil up my cray, savour the tail flesh and wash it down with a magnificent glass of Spy Valley Envoy bubbly from the Marlborough winemaking region. Outside my apartment I put my feet up on a chair, sip my bubbly, and listening the waves pounding the shore and look at the sun setting on the Seward Kaikoura. It’s so romantic. This is the life. The Fairways is luxurious and just seems the best place to stay. It on the town’s edge so it’s quiet but close to all I need.
The next day, I’m exhausted from all this lazing around so I head to Indulge Body and Soul and find out why they won a best spa in New Zealand award. My masseuse Tia Timms is amazing. She works hard on the knotty parts of my back and shoulders. My neck is tense but I feel so relaxed everywhere else!
An ace netballer, Tia suggests what else to do for the day. I could go surfing at Mangamaunu Point, one of the South Island’s most famous surf breaks. I could go bird-watching – sadly just the feathered-kind; scuba diving, Glenstrae farm biking, luging, archery, surf-casting, learn to fly and see whales from the air, diving with dolphins, fossil hunting, horse trekking, sea kayaking, cave tours, mountain hiking, deer hunting...I fall asleep, exhausted at the thought of all these.
Refreshed and invigorated, I plod off to Ruth Stirnimann’s art studio and fall in love with her bright geometric works which she just recently exhibited in Buenos Aires. She has a real talent and is a great asset to the Kaikoura art trail.
I drive back to Christchurch in my little Jucy rental, mentally making a note of all the things to do when I return Kaikoura.