Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - ByPa­trick­Smith

We’d ar­rived at the lodge 12km north of Kaik­oura that af­ter­noon and duty man­ager Mike had shown us to our suite high in the trees. Here’s the com­pli­men­tary mini-bar (bot­tle of Ha­puku Lodge wine, beers, juices, wa­ter, milk); here’s the re­mote for the air­con; this is how to light the wood­stove; here’s the spa bath (make sure to fill it above the jets!); the iPod dock’s over here and if you want a DVD we have a large li­brary down­stairs in the lodge.

Since we were booked on Ha­puku’s Earth, Sea and Sky pack­age, we were hav­ing an early din­ner, af­ter which we’d drive into Kaik­oura to meet Hus­sein Burra and join his Kaik­oura Night Sky ex­pe­ri­ence. It had been one of those bright, cloud­less au­tumn days – the kind you of­ten get at this time of year in the South Is­land – so things were look­ing promis­ing for a spot of stargaz­ing.

But, first things first: that big, deep spa bath was call­ing to us. While my wife ran the hot wa­ter I opened the wine and poured a cou­ple of glasses of Gewürz­traminer: we’d need to keep our flu­ids up. Hot wa­ter, sooth­ing bub­bles… soon a wee snooze be­fore din­ner seemed in or­der.

We were still drows­ing on that cus­tom king when the phone rang and Tui, the re­cep­tion­ist, in­formed us the stargaz­ing trip was off: high cloud over Kaik­oura, ap­par­ently.

Dis­ap­pointed but hun­gry, we made our way down­stairs and along the gravel path to the din­ing room, choos­ing a ta­ble for two in front of the open fire. At the other end of the room, head chef Jeremy Simeon was busy in the open kitchen.

Din­ner at Ha­puku is a three-course af­fair with a menu de­vised by ex­ec­u­tive chef Fiona Read. The à la carte

menu changes nightly and with the sea­sons. In­gre­di­ents come from Ha­puku’s kitchen gar­den, its olive grove, its free-rang­ing chooks, the Ha­puku Deer Farm and, wher­ever pos­si­ble, from lo­cal sup­pli­ers. Din­ner and break­fast are in­cluded in the tar­iff, although Kaik­oura cray­fish, a din­ner menu sta­ple (whole, grilled, with a chilli, horse­rad­ish and lime but­ter), costs an ex­tra $75. I went for the lamb back­strap and crispy fried spinach starter fol­lowed by pan-fried tur­bot on a pea puree with duck fat pota­toes, spicy chorizo and gre­mo­lata – de­li­cious – and rounded it all off with a killer dark choco­late pud­ding with straw­berry Coin­treau pre­serve and pour­ing cus­tard.

Well fed and back in our tree­top suite, we sat out on the small deck and looked at the stars. We didn’t have a tele­scope but we recog­nised the Southern Cross and watched a satel­lite flit across the Milky Way.

The ris­ing sun poured through our floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows next morn­ing and lit the snow­capped Sea­ward Kaik­oura Moun­tains, look­ing close enough to touch. Deer grazed con­tent­edly down in the pad­dock. From our bath­room win­dows we could look across rows of olive trees to a shin­ing sea.

Break­fast is an­other gourmet event at Ha­puku Lodge, with a menu of tasty-sound­ing dishes cul­mi­nat­ing in the full-Monty Lodge Coun­try Break­fast. But af­ter a bowl of the most bril­liant toasted muesli, fresh fruit and yo­gurt, I was happy with

scram­bled eggs on toast and cof­fee.

The “sea” seg­ment of our pack­age was a trip with Kaik­oura’s award­win­ning Whale Watch, a Maori-owned en­ter­prise that re­ally put the town on the map when it was launched in 1987.

Kaik­oura has had a long as­so­ci­a­tion with whales, thanks to the great un­der­wa­ter canyon that lies off­shore, 1,500 me­tres deep in places and stretch­ing for 60 kilo­me­tres. Cold and warm sea cur­rents col­lide in this deep trench, draw­ing huge quan­ti­ties of plant and an­i­mal nu­tri­ents to the sur­face. These pro­vide food for small fish and crus­taceans, which in turn at­tract larger ma­rine life, in­clud­ing the gi­ant sperm whale. Male sperm whales come here to gorge in preparation for their jour­ney to warm trop­i­cal waters where the fe­males live.

Once hunted for their oil and other valu­able by-prod­ucts (the last whale was killed here in 1964), the great mam­mals now at­tract more be­nign hunters – who flock to Kaik­oura to

catch a glimpse of one of these 50-tonne be­he­moths.

Whale Watch Kaik­oura does it well: a sight­ing is pretty much guar­an­teed and if you don’t see a whale you get 80 per cent of your money back. We boarded one of the com­pany’s five pur­pose-built cata­ma­rans at 11am and headed out to sea. Soon pas­sen­gers were out on deck watch­ing for the tell­tale spout or “blow” that would in­di­cate a breach­ing whale.

An ex­cited shout went up and we headed for the long black shape send­ing up pe­ri­odic gouts of wa­ter as the whale re-oxy­genated af­ter its 45-minute dive. This, we were told, was Ti­aki, an old friend who’s been vis­it­ing these waters for some 20 years. Ten min­utes later he arched his back and that fab­u­lous tail rose high into the air as he plunged down to feed once more. We’d see him again later.

Our skip­per, Cap­tain Chevy, set off in search of an­other whale, but with­out luck. There was plenty more to see, how­ever – greatwinged al­ba­trosses and pretty storm pe­trels, Hut­ton shear­wa­ters and mol­ly­mawks, seals and pods of play­ful dusky dol­phins that leaped out of the wa­ter or sped in for­ma­tion un­der the bows.

Af­ter an­other sight­ing of Ti­aki, we headed back to Kaik­oura, happy with our ex­pe­ri­ence and ready for a warm­ing bowl of chow­der. We found it on the way back to Ha­puku, at Koura Lodge, where a nine-hole golf course, bar and restau­rant sit high up be­tween the moun­tains and the sea. It proved an ex­cel­lent choice and we even man­aged to squeeze in nine holes be­fore re­turn­ing to Ha­puku Lodge.

The weather had turned cold, and low cloud meant there was no chance of stargaz­ing that evening. But we’d known the Earth, Sea and Sky pack­age was weather de­pen­dent and gen­eral man­ager Chris Stur­geon con­firmed that guests are re­im­bursed for such noshows.

Back in our tree house, I lit the wood­stove and, as the spa bath filled, we set­tled back in a pair of leather re­clin­ers with a drink and thoughts of Ti­aki dis­ap­pear­ing into the dark waters of the Kaik­oura Canyon.

An­other mem­o­rable din­ner, an­other sound sleep and an­other break­fast that would last us un­til teatime. We said our good­byes to Ha­puku Lodge’s charm­ing, friendly folk and headed back down State High­way 1. The stars will surely wait for our next visit.

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