Up close and personal with seal pups and cardboard cathedrals, then farewell NZ
Why must all good things come to an end? As I made my way onto Kaikoura, just north of Christchurch, I was all too conscious that this was the penultimate day of my NZ adventure.
But no time to harp on that fact, I had things to see and experience!
First task, was picking up a hitchhiker, who was also heading up north as well. Tom is only the second hitchhiker I've given a lift to (the first being 2 Polish medical students in Croatia), but after nearly a couple of weeks of driving around on my own, the company and conversation was very much appreciated.
First sight of Kaikoura was rather special. Despite it being midday and barely any clouds in the sky, there seemed to be a layer of mist sitting on the seaside town.
On my step-cousin Jeremy's recommendation, we went in search of the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ for some lunch. This was literally a shack by the road, but I grew up with street food, so if anything, it's a plus point.
Seeing as it was the end of my trip, and I had mostly been cooking for myself in the campervan, I thought that I would treat myself.
There's never anything quite like eating seafood by the sea / beach. So despite the very simple dish, it was a fantastic meal.
Now, the real reason that Kaikoura was on my itinerary wasn't so much for the mists or seafood, enjoyable as they were.
Legend (and my Frenzy guidebook) has it that there is a waterfall where in wintertime, seal pups make their way upstream to frolic. I've never heard of anywhere else in the world where this can be seen, so I was pretty excited.
I was expecting a random dirt road tucked out of the way, but turns out that it's quite easy to find, on the inland (left) side as you go north from Kaikoura, and just past the official (adult) seals viewing point.
Almost immediately as we walked onto the path from the carpark, there were already a couple of seal pups doing their weird flapping to move themselves upstream.
A short (5 minute) walk later, the sight was just incredible.
There must have been about 40-50 of the seal pups just splashing around, without a care in the world, and pretty cool with the humans that had come to watch. They seemed like a strange hybrid between a dolphin (doing flips and dives in the water) and a (dog) puppy (playfighting each other and with big puppy dog eyes).
Unlike adult fur seals, who can be aggressive to humans, these pups were very curious and came to find out more about us. See one with very cute puppy dog eyes at about 1:05 into the video below.
Just like at Hooker Lake on Aoraki/Mt.Cook, I spent half an hour just sitting there watching the sight with sheer wonder. I probably could have sat there for the rest of the day, but conscious that I needed to get to Christchurch (2 1/2 hours drive South) that evening, I dragged myself away.
I dropped Tom off at a hostel in Kaikoura, then had a quick stop at the beach to watch as the sun set.
The drive to Christchurch was uneventful, and I picked a campervan park on the outskirts of town to stop for the night.
Apparently, because of the damage caused by the earthquake, quite a few people are permanently living on some of these campervan sites, creating a bit of a 'trailer park' situation like in the USA. Thankfully, that didn't seem to be the case at the one I chose, but it was certainly a lot busier and more compact that the other ones I had stayed at previously.
The next day, I just had enough time to spend a few hours seeing Christchurch before I had to return my campervan and catch my flight home.
First issue was actually finding a car park! The one way system combined with significant construction in the city made it rather confusing even having been given directions and using Google maps. So I spent the best part of an hour just to get into town and park.
With even less time available, I decided to start with the famous Re:START mall, where the shops are all housed in container units.
It was actually really fascinating to see, not just for the creativity of solution, but the resilience of Christchurch (aka "CCH") inhabitants.
When I was there, some shops were having stock clearance sales as half the mall was being relocated elsewhere to make way for permanent development. That probably explained the regular vibrations I could hear and feel under my feet.
A short walk away is another astonishing building - The Cardboard Cathedral, with beams for the roof that are made of 2-foot diameter cardboard tubes.
That was pretty much all that I had time for, so with a heavy heart, I headed onto the Affordable Mortor Homes office to drop off the trusty campervan that had been my faithful companion for the past 10 days (and 2,262 km) around the South Island.
Amusingly, when I tried to fill up the gas tank on my way back to the depot, despite having used it for cooking pretty much twice a day for 10 days, the guy at the service station said that it was so full that he couldn't actually top it up.
Aside: If you are thinking of using Affordable Motor Homes, I can highly recommend them as the communication and service I got was fantastic, from the moment I made my initial enquiry through to the moment I dropped it off. They are a family-run company and have their own workshop to convert vans to the campervans, and the one I had was very reliable (eventhough over 10 years old) and bed very comfortable. Only be warned that the most basic version like I had just has a pull out portable toilet version, so might be a bit awkward if sharing with anyone.
What a fantastic time I had in New Zealand. In such a relatively short space of time, I saw so many amazing and beautiful things that reminded me of how lucky we are to be on this Earth of ours.
Going around in a campervan was most definitely the right decision, and it really allowed me to go to all manner of places that I wouldn't have otherwise, and in itself was a very special experience.
I will be back someday, but for now, it was time to say goodbye to New Zealand.
E noho rā!
See my full photo album on Flickr.