Monday 1 July 2019

We're Back in the South Island- Kaikoura; Part 2

Continued on from Part 1

The Ohau Point seal colony, north of Kaikoura, has always been a regular place for us to stop on our way up or down the main highway and I was keen to see how it had fared after sustaining extensive damage during the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake.

It was a pleasant surprise to see that as a result of the 'quake the colony now has a large rocky platform to rest on, most of it having been pushed up out of the ocean. The platform also contains numerous small pools, a perfect nursery playground for the seal pups to play in while they wait for their mothers to return from the sea.

There's also a new landscaped parking bay and viewing area along the edge of the colony's rocky platform. 

This was the old parking area, look how close the sea was before the 'quake. The seabed has been pushed up quite a height, it now finishes at the back of the seal colony's platform.  

The world famous Ohau Stream Waterfall pool was destroyed in the 'quake. This was where the seal pups from the colony used to travel 500mtrs up the stream to the pool seeking shelter, safety and to play in the fresh water pool. It's also where they entertained hundreds of tourists.

I'm very grateful that we were able to visit the pool a number of times in the past, it was a very special place and especially if you were the only one there being entertained by curious seal pups. Although towards the end it was getting a bit out of hand with dozens of people descending on the pool daily, many of them disturbing the pups by swimming with them, touching them and trying to get selfies. I was due to do a month at the pool as a volunteer ranger when the 'quake happened. These photos are from one of our previous visits.

Now with several pools on the platform, the pups can play and are safe from crashing waves, marauding males and overpowering people... they wait for Mum to return from the sea. And when she does arrive there's no way this pup is letting go.

The road north of Kaikoura was lifted by over 4 metres in places and although the road has been reopened for over 18 months, there's still a lot of road repairs, rail line embankments and rock face work going on, along with stop & go people and lights (with helpful countdown).

They certainly have done a lot of work though and it's actually quite hard to see where old sections of the road finish & new ones start.

Our next overnight stop is at an old favourite of ours, Donegal House, an Irish Hotel on the outskirts of Kaikoura. 

Donegal House also has a campervan park; there are two large areas for RVs to park. Power is available on one side of the Park at $20 per van, if you don't need power then it is free to park. Of course it would be courteous to partake in happy hour or a meal at the pub though. And especially when it's a cold winter's night and the fire is roaring away inside.

We parked in the smaller area this time, backed up to a paddock with a small pond. Last time we were here there was a lonely (& rare) white swan on the pond, he was missing this time so I hope he's been packed off  to find a mate.

We stopped at the South Bay Marina on our way to the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway which we'd decided to walk. The snow covered Seaward Kaikoura Range made a great backdrop to the hauled out fishing fleet.

The last time we stopped at the marina, it was in atrocious weather but we'd wanted to see how the rebuilding of the harbour was going after the seabed was pushed up by the 'quake making it very difficult for the commercial boats to enter & exit the harbour on anything but a full high tide.

The tourist tour boats now have their own jetties at the new South Bay Marina and there's also a separate jetty for cruise boat tenders to disembark passengers.

I've walked the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway previously, this time David decided to walk in from the Point Kean end and meet me half way. He dropped me at the South Bay entrance and then drove back into town and out to Point Kean at the end of the peninsula. I love this view back over South Bay as I climb the walkway to the top of the sea cliffs.

From the lookout above South Bay the track crosses farmland until it reaches the edge of the cliffs on the ocean side of the peninsula. There are magnificent views out over the sea and down to the papa rock reefs below. A large seal colony rests in the sun on the rocks here with some snoozing the day away stretched out in amongst the overgrown grass above the beach. Some of the people walking along the track around the shoreline cross through the grass without realising that there are seals there. They move pretty quickly when a large brown 'slug' lifts it's head nearby.

I meet David about two thirds of the way along the top and we then retraced my steps for a short distance and descended the steep stairway down onto the beach below and walk back around the rocks, David crossing the same grassy seal track but being very cautious he doesn't stumble over one of those hidden seals. It is actually quite hard to see them down at ground level.

I walked around the edge of the rocks taking photos of the snoozing seals tucked into nooks and crannies and lolling over  the edge of the rocks close to the beach. They seemed totally oblivious to people passing by although I did see the odd eye open, scan & then shut again.

The only movement in the colony were these two young seals play-fighting and a wary guy watching from behind.

There was once a large colony of seals at Point Kean, they used to be everywhere, on the rocks, over the road, up the stairways, under the bushes and on the boardwalk but once again the 'quake has raised the seabed here and it seems that they have moved further south and joined up with the colony we've just passed.  Some have moved out to the edge of the reef at Point Kean and there are still three or four seals loyal to the carpark but nothing like it used to be when most of the car parks were taken up by seals.

But the saddest sight of all was the old nursery pond alongside the boardwalk. This was once teeming with seal pups, now it's an overgrown stagnant duck pond.

From Kaikoura we headed south aiming for Christchurch but only making it to Parnassus. Why the hurry we said.

The main road south of Kaikoura is also still under repair although they have done one heck of a lot of work since we last came through, when we did a loop from Hanmer Springs to check on progress. I bet not many people would be able to say they drove through one of the Raramai Tunnels the wrong way. The photo on the bottom right was from that loop trip, it looks like they have increased the height from 4.38 metres  to 4.6 metres and widen the mouth (it's still pretty tight though).

As we were driving through the Hunderlee Hills, I spotted a familiar looking rig, complete with bright coloured kayak on the roof, approaching us through a thicket of bare poplar trees. There was a lot of mad waving from both sides as we passed.  

We've often been in a similar area but usually one of us is leaving as the other is arriving. We did manage to meet at Omakau a long time ago & at Warbirds a little later on. Then there was the time we didn't realise we were together at Napier's Ericksen Road Park until one of us was pulling out the gate. A friendship made over the internet through a love of RVing and belonging to the same motorhoming forums and Facebook pages. After some frantic texting the bus turned around and that is how we found ourselves having a coffee and then happy hour at NZMCA Parnassus in the company of John & Lorraine. It was lovely that they turned around and great to catch up with them because it could be another 4 years before we see them again!

Sunset- Parnassus NZMCA Park
From Parnassus we headed straight through to NZMCA Weedons Park which is not far south of Christchurch city. We have stayed at Weedons on a regular basis over the years and it felt quite comforting arriving back there, a bit like coming home.

It's a pity the weather didn't get the memo we'd be arriving though (and we'd need some sun to ease us into a South Island winter).

I think we had one blue sky day (and that was on the day we were leaving) during the week we were there. And then one of our diesel heaters spat the dummy and had to be serviced which was probably just as well going by the extreme frosts we've been having since we left Christchurch.


  1. It's good to see that the roads in this area have been fixed since they were destroyed. There's something special about waterfalls isn't there? Luckily NZ has a ton of them.

    1. Hi Amy, thanks for your comment, yes, it was lovely to be driving on smooth roads where once they were broken. A ton of waterfalls is right but there was just one with a pool of seal pups at it's base. It's sad to see a very unique experience gone forever.

  2. The seal pool at the foot of the water fall was THE highlight of the things we have seen in many trips around our lovely country. We were lucky enough to be there on a day when there were only a couple of other respectful humans. Was so special just to sit and watch them play.

    1. It sure was a highlight of our travelling too, and such a pity that people can't get up close now. Although if you're a Kiwi travelling or a tourist doing a slow trip there are a few similar pools around the NZ coast. I've had similar encounters with the seal colony out past Ngawi, on the south Wairarapa Coast and also at Wharariki Beach in Golden Bay. You're right, it's a very special encounter.


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