Kaikoura is one of those places that makes you ask yourself, “Is this real life?”
According to Urban Dictonary, “Is this real life?” is: N. A term used when something really good happened and one is extremely happy. Substitute for OMG, Seriously?, or Are you kidding me? While it might be extremely “basic”, I think it applies.
Kaikoura is one of New Zealand’s awesome coastal cities, but what makes it unique are the mountains that sit right on the edge of the rocky shores and cliffs. It has steep ocean drop-offs making it a mecca for sea life. Kaikoura is definitely known for its marine encounters, especially whales. While I didn’t get the chance to do a tour with Whale Watch, they have a 95% success rate with viewing Sperm Whales and guarantee an 80% refund if your group doesn’t see a whale…I’d say that’s pretty confident. You can see whales, dolphins, seals, even go swimming with them if you’re keen on that (well maybe not the whales).
My first taste of Kaikoura was on the Coastal Pacific Train from Christchurch. While I was just traveling through, I was completely mesmorized by the charming coastal town. I had just gone to get a coffee when the barista told me we were getting close to Kaikoura where it would be a clear morning for dolphin and seal spotting. Sure enough, over the loud speaker, they told us to look out the right windows and enjoy the show. Luckily, we were sitting on the right side of the train 🙂 There must have been 50 dolphins out in the sea. They were swimming, jumping, flipping – almost as if they knew we were watching. Everywhere we looked there they were. And then, even closer to us we noticed the seals lounging on the rocks. I couldn’t count fast enough, but I’d say it was in the hundreds. We came to a stop for a moment, and it crossed my mind to get off…for just passing through on a train, Kaikoura certainly left an impression on me. The mountains, the sea, the marine life – it was unreal. I knew I’d be back.
Fast forward a few months, and I was on my way back to Kaikoura. For round two, we were by car, which was just as picturesque winding along the road with mountains on one side and bright blue sea on the other. This time it was winter, but rumor had it that baby seals move up to a waterfall to grow big and strong between May-September…that I had to see. We were told we couldn’t miss it, and sure enough, we came around a bend, and there was a good-sized carpark awaiting us. Ohau Stream Walk.
There were seals frolicking on the boulders by the sea, but I had my heart set on the babies. We started the short hike up to the waterfall, and I was freezing. You follow the stream most of the way, and right at the beginning we saw a couple baby seals playing around. I started to warm up.
We kept climbing a little further until we reached the waterfall. That’s when we asked ourselves, “Is this real life?” Imagine a picture perfect waterfall cascading into a little pool at the bottom where baby seals swim around and hang out during the winter. There were seals swimming and flipping right beneath the falls, other seals were making their way down the stream (they got hungry), and others were up high on the surrounding hills. It sounded like they needed help getting back down.
After obsessing over baby seals for a while, we made our way back down and enjoyed the coastal views. While standing by the rocky beach we heard something…sure enough, a group of 4 baby seals had made their way down from the waterfall to the sea. (They have to come down every now and again to feed because the mamas still live by the sea.) There were quite a few people on the beach, but the babies just wobbled on through between everybody.
Considering a 10 minute walk can take you to this wonderful waterfall playground is reason enough to visit Kaikoura. But really, you don’t even have to go all the way to the waterfall to see the little guys.
I love me some Kaikoura. Dolphins, seals, waterfalls, short hikes, mountains, blue sea…sounds pretty good right? And if you need to warm up after playing with the seals, Kaikoura Food Company has great coffee and homemade fudge of all different flavors. Red velvet, creme brulée, mint chocolate chip, should I keep going?
Kaikoura makes for an awesome day trip, but if you want to extend your stay, these tree houses seem like an okay place to spend the night…I think I’ll be checking them out when I go back to Kaikoura for the third time.