Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Kaikoura- Too Cute for Words

Normal transmission resumes.....

We took the Inland Road from Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura even though the forecast was for rain and snow showers as the alternative route direct to the coast via Waiau was closed on SH1 due to a truck crash and with the driver missing we weren’t too sure when it would open again. The cloud was low, the road winding & wet and we passed a grit laying road maintenance team waiting for the inevitable snow but we managed to get through with just a couple of snow flurries along the way. Unfortunately we missed the fabulous views of a snow covered Mt Lyford and the surrounding range although we did catch glimpses of how low the snow was at various points along the way.

As we drove through a twisty bit of road I spied a sign post for “The Doone Grave”, I let out a yell to stop and my ever patient (suffering) husband managed to pull the rig over further down the road (actually I say "over" but what I mean is "to a stop", we were in a twisty bit and there was no shoulder so he stopped it in the middle of the road on a stretch where he could see oncoming cars.  I ran back up the hill to where I’d seen the signpost and scrambled over a stile and up the hill a little way to find a special gravesite for an little girl called Alice Doone. This was a grave not for a well known settler or famous explorer like others I've seen, this was for an ordinary little girl who died in a tent in the rugged back country wilderness.

The Doone Grave- In 1887 during the construction of the road from Waiau to Kaikoura there was a contractors camp situated on the Whalesback. Willie George was the camp cook, he lived in a tent with his wife & daughter Alice who was 1 year 10 months old. Alice fell ill & before a doctor could be brought from Waiau she died. Rev Campbell, the Presbyterian minister rode many miles over rough country to officiate at her burial on the roadside.

After the camp moved the site was neglected until a Captain AW Owles from Christchurch, who travelled the road frequently on business, made it his objective to raise money to have the grave fenced. Today a stone marks the grave which is enclosed by an iron railing with a post & wire fence surrounding the plot. In 2007 locals took up the challenge to tidy up access to the site so anybody could visit.

In Kaikoura we once again stayed at a NZMCA Park, this time part of the Kaikoura Trotting club grounds which are located in South Bay. Definitely not the best park we’ve stayed in, it was very cold as the sun (when it made an appearance) disappeared behind the large hill in the early afternoon and the snow on the surrounding mountains sent a very chilly breeze down to us at sea level. Can you see the “Out There” poking out from behind the trees on the far right. The one good thing about the site was that the Kaikoura Coastal Walkway had an entry point right beside the site. I took this photo from the steep stairway behind the site.

We went for a drive into town to find that there were black storm clouds approaching from all directions. This was looking out to sea from the Esplanade.

I was hoping we wouldn’t get caught out in the rain as we drove around to Kean Point where I wanted to say hello to the seals again. The reason we are heading north via Kaikoura instead of travelling over the Lewis Pass to the Tasman area was in fact because I want to see the seal pups in the Ohau stream. You’ll remember we missed them on our way south back in November, they had already weaned and gone to sea.

Looking back towards Kaikoura town with the mountain range behind covered in cloud. The cloud lifted the next day to reveal a heavy dump of snow on the mountains.

There was great excitement (from me) as we passed the little pond beside the road just before the point and I spotted half a dozen seal pups frolicking about in the water in amongst the ducks & geese. I hadn’t expected to see any seal pups here but then remembered that I’d read somewhere that seals had started to breed at Point Kean only recently. These pups would probably be around 4-6 months old.

We parked up in the car park as there was no stopping along the pond edge. I ran back along the boardwalk to the pond but not before being startled by a grumbling noise underneath. A troll? No a seal pup that had been sleeping and hadn’t taken too kindly to being disturbed by a couple of girls ahead of me. I stepped out onto the road and he mock charged me. He was a very aggressive little fellow and luckily a little bit too fat to squeeze out onto the verge and road.

A little further on I found more  pups hanging out in a tree right beside the boardwalk, they’d climbed up into the low branches and were resting up after their antics in the water. There were still three or four pups left in the water playing and chasing each other although a couple decided they’d had enough and climbed out just after I arrived. Across the water on the sand bank between the pond and the rocky beach and beneath the scrub were also a dozen or more pups sleeping. A seal pup crèche!

These two pups left in the water were very fast swimmers, racing up and down the pond, turning tight corners at each end and racing each other back to the middle where they’d have a rumble, twirling over & over each other. There were dozens of Welcome Swallows sweeping over the water and each time one came close to a pup, the pup would launch itself out of the water and try to catch it then chase after it down the pond. Just like a pup(dog) or a kitten playing. They were just too cute. I think their eyes must have something to do with it, they are so huge, great big round orbs peering at you.

It was low tide and while I was taking the photos of the pups David had gone exploring out on the rocks. He came back to get me as he’d found a lone pup right out by the waves. There were quite a number of seals out further but most were across a deep channel. A few people were also exploring the rock pools.

It wasn’t long before we located the little guy that David had spotted, he was sheltering under the rocks not far from the surging tide. He was a friendly little chap and we had to keep retreating so he couldn’t  get too close.

And what a little cutie he was, my heart melted especially when he looked at us with those huge eyes. He wasn’t at all afraid and stuck his nose out and moved closed any chance he got. I know they survive well in this environment but I couldn’t help wonder how they manage it, such tiny little vulnerable creatures, all by themselves on the big rocks and crashing seas with marauding male seals about as well.

The mothers are at sea feeding and are gone for 2-3 days at a time, I wonder how they find their pups when they come home. This little guy was very agile climbing up and over rocks, crossing small pools and popping out through gaps in the rocks, all the while checking to see where we were. I wonder where he heads to when the tide comes in and why he isn’t in the creche with the other pups. Perhaps he knows Mum will be home very soon and is waiting at the water’s edge for her.

How big are those eyes! Mind you they look a little scary here.

He looks a little sad here don’t you think?

I could have stayed and shot photos forever, or at least until it was dark (or the tide pushed me back in) but in the end our little mate went swimming in a big pool, disappearing under the bull kelp. We headed back to the car as the dark clouds closed in and big fat spots of rain started plopping all around us.

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