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A deep secret
The tiny fishing village of Kaikoura on New Zealand’s rugged east coast once kept a deep secret – a very deep secret. But now the word is out. Rod Eime spills the beans on Kaikoura.
ver twice the size of Tasmania, the South Island of New Zealand hosts a population of barely one million, mainly British-descended inhabitants who, in less than two centuries, have transformed the land into a vast luxuriant pasture, delivering some of the world’s best dairy products. On the wild eastern shore, cradled in a sheltered cove on its namesake peninsula is the tiny fishing village of Kaikoura (pronounced Kie-koo-ra). The South Island of New Zealand is dotted with these little treasures – otherwise inconspicuous spots on a sparse map characterised by varicose mountain ranges and dizzying, snow-dusted fjords. But now the word is out. Only a few hundred metres off shore, the seabed rapidly plunges into a massive submarine canyon well over a kilometre deep. When warm tropical currents flowing southward crash head-on into the cold Antarctic stream heading north, a swirling mass of nutrientrich water is sucked up from the depths. This marine smorgasbord attracts many aquatic mammals, fish, birds and now, tourists. For years Trevor Ruawai was a local fisherman, plying the rich waters off Kaikoura, dodging great sperm whales and leaping dolphins with his little boat. Now, with wife Polly, they run Miharotia; a plush B&B atop a bluff that commands breathtaking views of the peninsula and the massive peaks beyond. “It was all a bit rough ‘n’ ready in the early days,” reminisces Trevor with a wry grin. “The boys with the whale watch boat would scare the pants off tourists in their little 70 knot dinghy!” So much has changed in the last decade. The Whale Watch operation now runs a fleet of four, 50-passenger, state-of-the-art jet cruisers, complete with radar, depth sounders and interactive video screens. “Sure, it was tough in the beginning,” says Thomas Kahu of Whale Watch and a member of the local Ngati Kuri Maori tribe. “The banks all turned us down when we needed capital, so we hocked our houses to start up.” The rest is history. Whale Watch now runs a thriving enterprise located in the old railway station, immaculately
Above: Best viewing platform to see masses of dolphins. Left: Trevor Ruawai
restored to include a cafe, gift shop and auditorium. Cruises run all day, every day, nine months of the year and are often booked out weeks in advance. As a result, the Ngati Kuri people are now widely regarded as a local success story. On terra firma, Thomas’ first cousin Maurice Manawatu runs Maori Tours, where visitors are introduced to customs while visiting places of cultural significance to the local Ngati Kuri people. Maurice, a larger than life fellow, has a soft spoken tolerant tone which puts you at ease as he quietly explains the traditional heritage and patiently teaches guests a quaint local folk song. It’s a comical sight to see a minibus full of chirpy foreigners beetling along singing, ‘Manu Wa-Tu Te Ra!’ Other nature-based activities include bushwalking (or ‘tramping’, to use the kiwi vernacular), dolphin swimming, bird-watching, surfing, diving, fishing, horse-riding, golf, caving and even local winery tours. Underpinning Kaikoura’s claims as a nature-lover’s paradise is its remarkable status as one of only a few communities www.getupandgo.com.au
across the world to achieve Green Globe 21 benchmarking for sustainable tourism. This rigorous UN-endorsed accreditation includes such initiatives as waste and pollution management and benefits to local communities and cultures. While the Ngati Kuri people have excelled in delivering natural and cultural experiences, the more recently arrived Europeans offer top quality accommodation and restaurants. While numerous comfortable backpacker hostels cater to the younger nomadic types, there are also quality B&Bs and along the beachfront, motels, bungalows and swanky boutique lodges. Dining options are likewise numerous with New Zealand’s world-famous cuisine on show at even the most humble cafe. Whether it is a simple bowl of hearty clam chowder at the Craypot Cafe & Bar or a more genteel repast at the White Morph, the hardest part will be choosing. For a community of just 3000 residents, Kaikoura can stand tall as an example of responsible, enriching tourism that treads lightly on the land it so relies upon. And as you gaze in awe at the spectacular scenery and all its surrounding riches, you can feel the earth smile back.
Where is Kaikoura? Kaikoura is located 184km north of Christchurch and about the same distance south of the northern ferry port of Picton. Driving is easy on the well-maintained roads, or take one of the daily coach connections from either Christchurch or Picton. The annual Seafest is held on the first Saturday in October and for ALL activities, early booking is essential. • For a full list of activities and attractions, visit: www.kaikoura.co.nz www.getupandgo.com.au
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Photography: Rod Eime