The per­fect break

A whirl­wind trip to Kaik­oura ticks all the right boxes for An­drew Sim­mons.

Go Travel New Zealand - - Kaikoura -

My part­ner and I are near­ing the end of our South Is­land ad­ven­ture. In T-Mi­nus three days, four hours and 24 min­utes we will be back at Christchurch Air­port board­ing the big jet home. All our senses have been spoilt and are now fit to burst.

We want to fin­ish our trip with a bang but where to go? After all the South Is­land has so much to of­fer and the more time we spend here, the more our ex­pec­ta­tions rise.

It needs to as be jaw drop­ping as Fiord­land, boast the plethora of wildlife of the Catlins and within a days drive from Queen­stown, Oh, and by the sea. Is that too much to ask? Prob­a­bly, but we fig­ure our best shot is Kaik­oura.

We had heard a lot about this place “where the moun­tains meet the sea” and peo­ple we had met had boasted about their whale en­coun­ters just a few miles off­shore, but for some rea­son, I was scep­ti­cal.

We de­cide to set off early so we can take ad­van­tage of the in­creas­ing day­light hours. The drive through Macken­zie Coun­try is breath­tak­ing and the miles fly by. The view of Mount Cook over the turquoise wa­ter of Lake Pukaki was a real high­light.

After a quick stop in Christchurch for a bite to eat, we con­tinue on State High­way One. Now just 10 min­utes from our des­ti­na­tion we’re on a wind­ing road coastal road, the sun be­hind us. “Dol­phin!” my part­ner yells. A pod of seven or eight are all tak­ing turns to jump out of the wa­ter. There is much spec­u­la­tion as to why they do this but to me they’re sim­ply show­ing off. Ei­ther way we’re off to great start.

The sun is set­ting when we reach The Fair­ways Apart­ments, our home away from home for the week­end. It’s past re­cep­tion hours but our hosts Ross and Jenny James have left milk in the fridge and put the fire on.

The lux­ury five-star ac­com­mo­da­tion is next to Kaik­oura Golf Club, just five min­utes from the town­ship. The one-bed­room apart­ment is ideal for us.

The next morn­ing, we are greeted to the sight of snow-capped moun­tains and the faint sound of crash­ing waves. Bliss. To­day’s the day and we want to see all that Kaik­oura has to of­fer - but only have one day to do it in. We fig­ure our best bet would be to catch a glimpse from above. Ross rec­om­mends Kaik­oura Heli­copters. They are the es­tab­lished he­li­copter com­pany fly­ing tourists over the moun­tains and sea for over 25 years.

They of­fer a wide range of flights, in­clud­ing, of course, whale-based tours. We go for the aptly named “Top ‘n Tail” char­ter. We fig­ure this will give us best of both worlds.

After a de­li­cious eggs bene­dict from the Allure Cafe in town, we meet up with Chelsea at Kaik­oura Heli­copters. She ex­plains that we could go now but if we wait a cou­ple of hours we’ll be in for a real treat. It’s a tip that more than pays off.

There’s barely a cloud in the sky when we take off. Our pi­lot, Lee, is in con­stant

com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the Whale Watch and En­counter op­er­a­tors be­low, ra­dio­ing back and forth as we head in search for the sperm whale.

Kaik­oura Heli­copters ac­tu­ally time their char­ters around the whale’s div­ing pat­terns. They typ­i­cally arise ev­ery 45 min­utes and are at the sur­face for 6-9 min­utes giv­ing you plenty of time to take in the majesty of the mo­ment.

In our brief, be­fore set­ting off, Lee ex­plains that the sperm whales are per­ma­nent res­i­dents to the Kaik­oura coast­line so the chances of see­ing one are ex­tremely high. This is due to the unique land­scape: A trench as deep as the moun­tains are high (3km) is just off shore, full of tasty gi­ant squid and grouper for the whales to feast on.

The flight is sur­pris­ingly smooth and the he­li­copter makes less fuss than the rental car I’ve hired for the week­end. With the help of the Whale Watch boats it doesn’t take us long to find one. From above you can re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate their sheer size. We can see the whole length of the whale: It’s as long as the 60ft boat be­low.

We fly slow or­bits un­in­ter­rupt­edly above him be­fore he takes one long last breath, lifts its tail (the size of a fam­ily car) and de­scends to depths again.

It takes us less than five min­utes to touch down at 5200ft on the sum­mit of Mt Fyffe. The fresh snow crunches un­der our feet as we step out­side and soak up the 360 de­gree view. The North Is­land to our right and Banks Penin­sula to the left.

Lee tells us sto­ries about fly­ing in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions around the world. You al­most want to hate them for seem­ingly hav­ing the best job in the world but you can’t. Peter, Lee and Chelsea were gen­uinely the nicest peo­ple and took real joy in see­ing our as­ton­ished ex­pres­sions.

We fin­ish our trip with din­ner at the Cel­lar View Restau­rant, an­other one of Ross’ tips. The food and view were to die for. Karen, the owner, epit­o­mises the peo­ple of Kaik­oura. She makes us feel as if we were in front of our own fire as we fight over their se­lec­tion of home made ice cream.

I can say with some con­fi­dence that all our boxes were well and truly ticked but much more than that we were leav­ing a place were ev­ery­one we met in­stantly made us feel a part of this amaz­ing com­mu­nity. Pure New Zealand.

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