As many places in New Zealand, Kaikoura is surrounded by amazing landscapes. It is a small town settled between mountains and sea, and it is known for wildlife, including whales, dolphins and seals. There are all kinds of tours to watch them – even swim with them!
I did not take any tour but I keep great memories from Kaikoura: a seal jumping and growling to a tourist that got too close, a cliff where it was so windy that I could barely walk, a nice truck driver who liked to joke. But I better start from the beginning.
A windy walk
One of the best (free) things to do in Kaikoura is the walk all around the peninsula. It could be done in about 4 hours, without rush. The scenery: the views of the ocean from a cliff. The highlight: the colonies of seals that live on the shore. The challenge: the incredibly strong wind.
I found the first seal colony near the town, before going up the cliff. Several seals were lying on the shore, apparently sleeping and enjoying the warmth of the sun. From time to time one of them moved its head, looking up at the birds flying over us. I wondered what the seals think when they see the birds: freedom? annoyance?
What is clear is that some tourists were an annoyance. I remember that one that got too close… the seal rapidly got up (yes, I did not know they could move so fast!), stood on its ”legs” and growled. The scared tourist instantly jumped back. It is a pity that I could not capture it in a photo, it was a funny sight!
Then the track goes up the hill. The views were great, and the wind… so strong! I had difficulties to walk and when I approached the edge of the cliff I did it on my hands and knees. I could not even keep my camera still, the wind was pushing my hands so hard! Getting an horizontal horizon was nearly impossible.
The peninsula has several beautiful beaches. As it often happened in New Zealand, I was amazed by the color of the water. Really, how is it possible?
From the hill, I spotted another colony of seals resting on a distant cape. More seals, and no tourists around! I went down and sat on the rocks at a safe distance. Again, most of them were just lying down, and a few were looking around. They did not seem disturbed by my distant presence, so I stayed for a while before moving on.
A truck experience
Last year I read a book from a couple of travelers who travel by hitchhiking, not to save money, but as a way to interact with local people*. They have been traveling for several years now and they talk about the hospitality they receive on the road.
Since then, I wanted to try but I did not dare, not alone. Not for fear, it was more… shyness. I could not see myself standing on the side of the road extending my thumb, asking for help (not that it was very different than asking other tourists for a ride as I did in Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, but my mind is not very logical).
I met a lot of people who traveled/ had traveled by hitchhiking in New Zealand, and told me that it was common and safe. And then the right occasion came… in Kaikoura.
Several people told me about a place about 20km from Kaikoura where there were baby seals, but there was no public transport to get there. A guy I met in the hostel was motivated to go so we decided (he convinced me) to try.
It was interesting to observe the reaction of the drivers. Some waved and smiled, some made a gesture as saying ‘sorry, I cannot’, some avoided to make eye contact. We had to wait for almost half an hour until one car stopped. It was a lady and her old mother. The rear seats were completely full of things, but somehow we managed to go in. They were not going far but approached us to the exit of the city.
This time we did not wait as much until another car stopped: it was a mother and her kid. She liked talking so the trip went fast. We went to see the baby seals, who were swimming and playing in a pond. Due to the dense vegetation it was very dark so the photos do not look very clear, but it was cute!
When we came back to the road to go back to Kaikoura it started to rain. The cars passed in front of us… would anyone help us from the rain?
Suddenly we saw two trucks coming and we joked that it would be cool to get a ride from a truck, but probably they did not have enough space to brake there. And then… we saw a truck going out of the main road, straight in our direction… whoaaaaa! We jumped back and the truck stopped in front of us. The driver gestured, ‘come in’. I could not believe it! It was so cool!
The driver of the truck liked to talk and tell us jokes, and the views from the truck were great. I even regretted that the trip was over when he left us in Kaikoura.
When I started the round the world trip, I thought that I would like to travel in all kinds of transport. So far, I had managed to travel by plane, car, bicycle, motorbike, metro, train, taxi, tuk-tuk and several kinds of bus, ferry and boat. I never thought I would travel by truck as well!
Kaikoura is another example of a place were the people I met made my day.
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