Outside the train station we admire the alpine setting.
We decide to lug our luggage to the Motel. Who needs taxis?
The road is a long one. It’s still pretty warm. And when we get to the motel I realise my battered but comfortable old fleece is no longer with us. Maybe we needed a taxi.
The motel is fine. Does what it says on the tin. We have a decent sized room with all mod cons. And a view of the very tops of the mountains with their snow.
Take showers, test telly, briefly rest on the comfortable bed. Off back to town for dinner. We’ll seek the missing jacket on the way. No joy. The wind is getting up. My eye is constantly drawn back to the mountains. Striking cloud shapes move and change at great speed.
I’m feeling it a bit chilly by the time we get to what is probably the town centre. This is one of the very few occasions on the trip so far that I could have done with the fleece. Typical.
The town appears to be closing up for the night. It is about eight thirty and still very light.
Where to eat? We decide on a backpackery called the Adelphi. They serve us a very adequate meal at reasonable cost. Country music plays as we eat and mountains peer at us over the wild west street view opposite. I ask the waitress if it is always this quiet. She is from Spain. ‘Pretty much’ is her reply. ‘Back home we would only be thinking of going out now’. I muse on the idea of opening a club for the gilded backpacking youth of Europe gapyearing in kiwiland. Too noisy. Rejected, but someone’s missing out.
We stroll back to the motel. The wind is now very strong, the sky is an intense orange-pink with streaks of deep turquoise. Clouds stream above the mountains. The effect is dramatic and beautiful.
Lamenting the loss of my fleece I retire. There is a Japanese student in the room above who seems to take several showers and rearrange the furniture in his room before he too retires.
I am woken a couple of times in the night by trains passing and once by a sheep. In the morning it is apparent that there is a field of them about ten yards from our door.
The mountains fairly gleam in the bright morning sunshine. By the time we’ve taken a frugal breakfast clouds are moiling around them and rapidly thicken as the wind rises again.
We are booked for a whalewatching trip at ten this morning. We make our way to the Whalewatch office, next to the station. The staff are uniformed, courteous, efficient young women most of whom look to be Maori. There is a screen with updated whale trip info on the wall. It’s all very well organised. In fact the train station is just a sideline of the whale watching business. It is doubtful that they will sail this morning, the wind is too strong. We have to wait until closer to sailing time to find out. We admire the Maori decor and the Maori signs on the toilets, fortunately backed up with the usual internationally recognised infographics.
The trip is cancelled. No whales for us today. We are whaleless in Kaikoura to paraphrase Milton. They will put on another trip at twelve. But this will get back too late for our train to Christchurch in the afternoon.
Stiff upper lip and all that. We’ll walk out to the seal colony on the peninsula beyond the town. We’ll see marine mammals by hook or by crook.
We pass through a long avenue of Norfolk pines past backpackers’ hostels by the dozen. The mountains have disappeared in thick cloud but it is breaking up on this side of town. There are tripots as mementos of the bad old whaling days. There are some weatherbeaten and evocative wooden sculptures beside the road. There is a heartrending memorial to a man who died saving a whale.
Now there are exotic red flowers on the cliffs which rise around us but the street names display distinct symptoms of homesickness. Yarmouth, Brighton, Ramsgate, Margate, Torquay. There’s an aquarium and a seafood processing plant in uneasy juxtaposition. There are rose gardens and a whaler’s cottage. The sun is now shining brightly. We sit beside some extraordinary layered rocks while gulls squabble over some unidentifiable part of some unidentifiable sea beast. We walk on past guillemot-type birds trying out different poses on rocky plinths.
There is a remote, windswept look to the headland as we walk further past a small picnic area. It is serviced by a hot dog van powered by a generator run off the proprietor’s car. On to a wooden boardwalk and finally we reach the seal colony out on a big rocky point.
A number of tourists are already there. Children are admonished by parents. Seals are wild animals that bite say the warning signs. There is a decidedly doggy smell about the place. We immediately encounter a large and self satisfied seal lazing on a slab of rock. Tourists gingerly circle him with busy cameras. He doesn’t care. He snorts quietly and carries on lazing. This is surely the fault of the welfare state. He’ll lounge here all day and never turn a hand to honest labour. Others of his kind dot the rocks. All are idling slackers. They demonstrate the australasian philosophy of ‘no worries’ taken to its logical conclusion.
We return to the car park and climb a steep concrete path to the top of the headland. It is the site of a Maori pa, an earthwork fort. Te Rauparaha and his mob came here and caused bovver back in the eighteen forties. This information is well presented on a slickly produced display, a visitor service which New Zealand does particularly well. There is a delightful miniature yellow lighthouse nearby. I do like a lighthouse.
We return along the sea front. It is now hot and sunny. We eat breakfast bars looking out to sea while gulls suggest we throw some their way. They have red feet, red beaks and even red rings round their eyes. They must know something about the night life on Kaikoura that nobody else does. I find them rakishly handsome. Alison, in an uncharacteristic display of savagery says they should be murdered.
We haven’t seen whales but we’ve seen something of Kaikoura. We sit in the sun and wind looking out over the Pacific. I imagine fantastically tattooed people sailing over its perilous windy vastness in frail boats to colonise this place at the end of the world.
We wait sunbaked, windswept and content for the 3.28 to Christchurch.