Monday, March 21, 2011

#blog4NZ - Kaikoura

The New Zealand Prime Minister also holds the portfolio for tourism: that's how important it is here; so all the death and disaster news that's hit the world's headlines about the Christchurch earthquake has serious implications for our economy. For three days, #blog4NZ is hoping to reverse that bad image by reminding everyone who's ever thought about coming here - and those who haven't - that NZ will deliver an unforgettable holiday, wherever you go. And that's not in the trapped-under-a-cafe-table-while-the-roof-falls-in sense of unforgettable, either.Try this:

I’m skimming north from Christchurch across the Canterbury Plains towards Kaikoura. The Southern Alps are dazzling against a clear blue sky; the Waimakariri runs deep and wide between its shingly banks; low sun caresses the green curves of hills neatly nibbled by fluffy white, back-lit sheep; vineyards make a geometric tracery of orange and brown. Ahead lie the snow-capped dog’s teeth of the Seaward Kaikouras. Spray-swept breakers roll onto black beaches and thick bush fringes massive headlands bored through by tunnels. It’s an exhilarating drive that ends at with a surprise at Hapuku Lodge, north of Kaikoura.

Perched above a stand of manuka trees, five tree houses command spectacular views. Stylishly simple boxes of wood, glass and copper, inside they’re furnished to a seductive level of luxury. Quantities of goose down and fine linen promise deep sleep; a roomy spa bath overlooks the ocean, the floor is toasty warm and, best of all, there’s a log-burner in the window by a leather armchair inviting long study of the mountains where the wind is blowing snow off the peaks.

Down in the main lodge are more fires and inviting chairs but further up the road there's a secret to discover. Passing hardy surfers encased in neoprene catching waves off the point, I follow a path through the bush to where a pretty waterfall plunges into a pool. Also plunging are dozens of fur seal pups, fat shiny babies with liquid brown eyes. Somehow, three years ago, one found his way up the creek, discovered the fun of diving under the falls, and word got around. Now up to 100 pups can be found there pretending to be dolphins, making the water boil with their playful energy.

There’s much less action at the seal colony around the bay, where their parents yawn and scratch on the rocks. People can ride here from town on Segways, and I take one for a spin. Self-balancing on two wheels, it’s an unlikely-looking vehicle, but turns out to be a Zen machine: just think of a direction, and away it hums.

From the air, the road is a black ribbon threading along the scalloped edge of the land, between long waves breaking on the rocks and mountains hustling down to the sea. Our helicopter swoops over the sea where a resident sperm whale rests on the surface, re-oxygenating for another 1000-metre dive. We watch as he stirs and then tips downwards, the wide flukes of his tail streaming with water as it lifts into the air. He’s hunting fish attracted by the nutrient-rich waters of the deep trench just off-shore…
[Photo Dean Mackenzie]

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