Following our visit to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, we caught the Bluebridge ferry across the Cook Straight to the South Island.
The scenery along our cruise was quite beautiful, especially as we approached the port of Picton.
Upon arrival in Picton we drove off the ferry and headed to a nearby hostel where we spent the night. The next morning we continued driving south along the east coast towards our next destination, Kaikoura.
A few kilometers before arriving in Kaikoura we spotted the scenic overlook at Ohau Point so we stopped to take a look. We rarely pass by a scenic lookout without stopping, and since South America we always call them “miradors” regardless of the local language.
We didn’t know it before stepping out of the car, but Ohau Point is home to a large fur seal colony.
We first spotted fur seals in Ushuaia, Argentina and we hoped we’d be able to see some up close in Kaikoura.
The Ohau Point rest area was reconstructed (along with major portions of the highway and rail lines) after a huge earthquake that hit the area in 2016. For several days the land routes into Kaikoura were completely cut off; boats had to be used to bring in supplies and evacuate stranded tourists.
On our first full day in Kaikoura we were treated to some spectacular fall weather, which was great because we’d booked a kayaking trip with Kaikoura Kayaks.
As we paddled, our guide told us about the wildlife we might see and also gave instructions on what we should do if an earthquake struck during our tour. In that event we were supposed to paddle into deeper water so that we’d be safe from a possible tsunami.
After paddling in open water for a while we approached the seal colony and watched the fur seals napping on the rocks and frolicking in the water. Sometimes the seals interact with the human visitors – last year there was a viral video from this area in which a seal flung a live octopus onto a kayaker!
We’d hoped to see some dolphins or whales but our wildlife sightings were limited to fur seals and shags (cormorants). Nevertheless, we had a great time. The kids are getting to be pretty good paddlers so we’re hoping to do some more kayaking as we continue on our trip.
Point Kean Walk
At the tip of the Kaikora Peninsula, Point Kean is a great place to spot wildlife and take in the beautiful landscape.
Walking along the shoreline, we spotted even more fur seals, including some cute pups.
We walked along the beach a while then hiked up to the upper trail that runs along the bluffs as the sun was setting.
Our last day in Kaikoura brought clouds and drizzle so we headed indoors to see the Kaikoura Museum. The museum has a huge collection of pieces from the early days of European settlement, offering a glimpse of life in Kaikoura during that period.
Whaling and seal hunting were very important to the economy in the early days. The blubber from whales and seals was melted down and exported. Some of this oil was used to light the streetlamps in faraway London.
Today the economy of Kaikoura is largely based on tourism, although commercial fishing also plays a part (no more whaling though!). The local crayfish (rock lobster) are prized across the world, especially in Asia. We had hoped to try one until we found out that they cost NZ$80-100 for a single lobster! We took a pass on that and instead enjoyed some excellent fish and chips!
Next time, we continue our tour of the South Island with a stop in Christchurch.