Kaikoura is a little town on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island – known for its abundant marine wildlife. Visitors go whale watching, swimming with dolphins, swimming with fur seals… um, yes please. Albatross are also on the list of sweet-ass fauna you can experience in Kaikoura.
Now, you may have heard of this little town if you keep up with international current events. Kaikoura was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in November 2016. It definitely caused some damage, but the main thoroughfare in town is mostly up and running. The accessibility of the town from the north is probably the biggest pitfall. Highway SH1, which goes directly from Blenheim to Kaikoura along the coast is completely closed off.
This unfortunately adds a solid 3.5 hours of drive time, and makes the closest free campsite to Kaikoura inaccessible. We soldiered on, however. Gotta see those fur seals!
Shortly before reaching the town, we were greeted with orange traffic cones and several road workers in bright orange vests. Orange is my favorite color, but not when it is keeping me from seals. The only road into town at the moment is sporadically whittled down to a single lane. Every few kilometers we were met with a stop sign, allowing the opposing traffic to filter through. We passed by collapsed tunnels, twisted metal railings and mudslides.
The light was quickly slipping past the horizon, so we decided to stop at an open campground a few kilometers from the center of town. The receptionist seemed pleased to have travelers booking in for the night. We ate a quick dinner before falling asleep to the sound of rain pounding against van’s metal roof and crashing waves in the distance.
It seems we have our own personal rain cloud following us around.
The next morning, after learning that we had inadvertently slept through an earthquake… yeah, we slept through an earthquake. In a van. Not surprising for Jason, who can sleep through anything. I, however, am a fairly light sleeper. While the earthquake was only a 3.o, I was still surprised. Perhaps Jason’s snoring has made me a stronger(?) sleeper. I guess that could be the correct way to state that. Why not?
As I was saying, the next morning we realized that the forecast for the foreseeable future was drenched. Non-stop rain. There was one potential day with sunshine, but it was a few days away and sandwiched by days with 60+ percent chance of rain. Whale watching and albatross viewing are best suited to non-rainy, non-terrifyingly rough sea condition days. We opted to camp out at a holiday park that supposedly had good free wifi. If we couldn’t get out and do, than we figured we could stay in and do – i.e. write the backlog of posts I’ve been meaning to write.
A few words on New Zealand’s internet.
I am certainly not the first traveller to bitch about the pathetic state of internet in New Zealand. Actually, up until Kaikoura, Jason and I have been pleasantly surprised, having braced ourselves for the worst.
It is easy to understand why this stereotype is perpetuated. New Zealand, for some insane reason, charges for internet the way US cell companies charge for data – by megabyte.
It is not uncommon to run into cafes, hostels and hotspots that cap their “free” wifi usage at 100, 200, 250 megabytes. If you’ve ever tried to download an app on your phone while on data, you can understand just how quickly megabytes can get eaten up.
While we are usually able to circumvent this insanity by visiting the local library, the one in Kaikoura took it to a whole new level. While you technically could have unlimited free wifi there, it would be a headache not worth having. We had to ask the librarian for wifi vouchers – physical pieces of tiny paper with individual codes typed out on each one. The problem is that each slip of paper is only good for 100 megabytes. So, if you are trying to watch, oh I don’t know, the latest episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, you would need to get a minimum of 10 slips of paper from the librarian and re-log on approximately every 3 minutes. No thank you.
Back to the Top 10 Holiday Park.
With the utter failure of the Kaikoura library, we booked into an unpowered site at the holiday park and were extremely disappointed to find they only allot 250mg per day, free. Beyond that you have to pay an extraordinary amount, in the vein of $40 NZD for 20 gigs. I would eat through that before being able to upload all the photos for this single post. The wifi would have cost us more than the spot for the night. Definite no.
I sound ridiculous complaining about wifi. Why don’t we just go do something in the town? Well, the town is tiny, a 3rd of the businesses are closed due to earthquake damage and it was RAINING. Yes, we have very good rain jackets and there was a museum that we could have visited. But sometimes you just want to hunker down with your laptop and get lost online… even when you’re in New Zealand.
We ended up spending about two days at the holiday park, trying to wait out the rain. We read, we used what little internet we had to do research and we made friends with two other couples who were equally disappointed with the weather. The second night we all joined together and had a movie night.
After watching the thrill ride that is Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger, we decided we’d had enough and would leave for Christchurch in the morning.
Surprise exit bonus.
Of course, that turned out to be a clear, sunny morning. But our minds were made up, and the next available seal swim wasn’t for five days (of expected rain).
The only upside to the terrible weather (joined with the little bit of sunshine) was when we stopped on the peninsula on our way out of town. Apparently, when the weather is bad fur seals tend to stay in close to shore to escape being battered by the waves. We got to see a handful of them. My favorites were doing what I would do in their situation – napping in the sun rays.
On our way back north, we’ll probably return to Kaikoura. The SH1 is supposed to reopen in the next couple of weeks. If that is the case, we may be swimming with these guys, after all.