KAIKOURA - By Patricia Gordon
On 14th February, 1770, in the afternoon, Captain James Cook sailed alongside the Kaikoura Peninsula, New Zealand, on his ship Endeavour. On 3rd November, 1990, I arrived on foot with backpack in tow at the tip of the Kaikoura Peninsula at 4:00 am. Had Cook not been approached by the natives of the Island paddling their canoes towards his ship, Cook may have had the fortunate experience of witnessing one of the true wonders of the world. Kaikoura is one of the few places left on earth where natural beauty is in abundance and has not been victimized by its predator ─ man. Kaikoura has a population of under 7,000 inhabitants and is located on the north-east side of the South Island. This small quaint town, which was originally a whaling station in the 1920s, was given its name by the native people, the Maori. The name means "to eat crayfish," which incidentally is plentiful in this area of New Zealand. The Maori people manage and own the land in Kaikoura. They have gone to great lengths not to disturb its natural environment by not giving into the temptation of money into which the white man is so easily lured. The town has one motel and two hostels. Trains and motor-coaches run infrequently. You will not find the typical tourist in Kaikoura. There are no shopping malls, multi-leveled parking lots, tall overbearing skyscrapers, sounds of heavy traffic, crowds of people, information booths or signs. Kaikoura has been protected from the jaws of mechanical diggers and the crushing of bulldozers; man's favourite tools. It is a place where you can truly be alone, and the complexing demands in life and the madness of city living are all but forgotten. Kaikoura offers sanity and a sense of freedom.
This hidden treasure of New Zealand’s also provides the experience of whale
watching. Between the months of October and August the sperm whales have made Kaikoura their home. They are the largest toothed mammal in the world, reaching lengths of up to 60 feet and a possible
weight of 70 tons or more. The whale-watching excursions are controlled by the Maori people, who limit both the number of boats in the water and the trips taken to observe these great creatures in
their natural surroundings. The Maoris will not issue permits to other entrepreneurs. Their commitment to the survival of the whales and Kaikoura is shared by those who come to admire the harmonious
offerings of nature. Most whale-watching excursions take place before dawn when the whales are most active. The experience of looking for whales is a feeling of excitement and fear shared at the same
time. The fear is felt in appreciating the size of this great mammal, not knowing the temperament of the creature or where and when itwill emerge from the depth of the ocean waters. On my excursion,
I was lucky that a sperm whale made its grand appearance not far from the left side of our boat. My adrenalin was overflowing and I could feel my heartbeat racing to this joyous occasion. I did not
know whether to laugh or cry. The whale forcefully ejected the sea through his blow-hole several feet into the air, claiming his rights to the kingdom of the ocean, while the weaker species looked
on. I stood in awe of this great mammal marvelling at its size,
length and gracefulness as it swam through the ocean water. I was no longer afraid. The ocean became my security blanket. I felt empathy for this creature of the ocean, reflecting on its cruel history of being hunted by man. I thought to myself, if there was a God, why did he give egocentric humans the intrinsic need to kill and destroy such magnificent creatures? This world is theirs too. I felt a sense of belonging out there in the ocean with this whale, wishing this could be my place to hide too. As I watched the whale moving further away, a feeling of ecstasy became intertwined with my emotions as the whale elegantly submerged its great body back into the ocean, flipping its tail in the air as a gesture of goodbye.
The tip of Kaikoura Peninsula starts within yards of the youth hostel and takes
two hours of non-stop walking around the perimeter, returning back to the original starting point. It is well worth the walk. The countryside brought back memories of my old native England, where I felt at home with the roaming hills so rich and green. In these hills I wandered where I pleased. There were no boundaries, nor a human in sight.The only living thing I met were the sheep, who chose to ignore my presence while contentedly grazing the hillside. I was truly alone. My natural protective instincts, which are kept on guard in the city life, were quickly eased. I was not afraid.
I clambered down onto the slippery rocks with an inner need to be closer to theocean. The sky had already begun to change into shades of purple and pink, complementing the darkened rocks and the tranquility of peacefulness. I came across numerous groups of brown seals resting lazily for the night on the ledges of the rocks. The feeling of respect for one another's presence seemed mutual. I had finally reached a point where the ocean was now within several feet below the rock on which I chose to sit. I admired the ocean and I looked up at the sky, mesmerized by this natural breathtaking beauty before me. I can only compare this emotion I felt with the feelings I experienced when standing before Van Gogh's paintings, or Michelangelo’s masterpieces. I also felt this emotion while standing on the ledge of one of The Three Sisters' rocks on Blue Mountain, Australia, while testing the winds of nature which would determine if I were to live or die, and the emotions I felt while standing on the top of Ayers Rock absorbing the elation of accomplishment and freedom. The beauty of nature is the conscience of our thoughts; a reminder that it was here long before man.
The sky began to turn into a deep shade of purple as twilight set in. The air felt warm. I could smell the aroma of the salty ocean while I took in deep breaths, as if they were my last. The waves clashed teasingly against the jagged edges of the rocks as they rose higher and higher with each incoming wave. They reminded me of children wanting to play. I could almost hear their laughter. I sat on the rock bemused by the determination of the waves and laughed when the warm sea finally soaked deep into my skin. I sat there, eyes closed, waiting for the impact of another wave. I did not have to wait long and the force of that wave was much stronger than the first, sending me backwards onto the rock. I was completely soaked but I did not care--this was my vision of paradise: a place to be alone where nobody could hurt you, where you could be free from stress and not be a victim to global control. It was in Kaikoura that I learned what the meaning of "freedom" really was.
Very little information is available about Kaikoura to tourist. Even the guidebooks of travel publishing giants, Fodor's and Bantam's, give very brief information on this quiet but scenic town. Perhaps it is with this saving grace that Kaikoura has been allowed to survive human contamination, retaining its secretive beauty for the privileged few. Had Cook landed on the shores of Kaikoura on 14th February, 1770, it is quite possible Kaikoura's unique landscape would have been tarnished by the settlers to follow, and its existence of beauty may only have been captured in paintings or drawings by native artists. Perhaps Cook subconsciously knew this as he sailed away.