Dec 23

Kaikoura I

by in Drawing & Writing


It’s usually about two minutes minutes before the bus arrives that the second-guessing begins. By that point a few dilapidated hotels, hostels, and B & Bs have rolled by, and it’s easy to think, ‘Mine could be one of those.’ And it could. But, with luck and a little research, our hostels HADN’T been one of “those” – until Kaikoura.

Kaikoura wasn’t part of our itinerary. The original plan was for Hanmer Springs, famous for its… well, you can guess that part.

But Hanmer Springs has a problem. IF a bus company does go there, they only go there sporadically, whimsically, just for fun, hardly for a profit. So we dumped Hanmer Springs like an internet girlfriend – “it’s not you, it’s the buses!” – and started making plans for Kaikoura.

After four tries, I finally caught a hostel that wasn’t busy or booked. To my surprise, they didn’t need a credit card. “Just a phone number.” When I told him I didn’t have one he said, “OK, then is there an email address you could give me?” When I gave him one, he explained. “Yeah, it’s just like, in case you don’t show up. I mean we can’t really do anything about it then, but at least, you know, I can vent at you.”

It’s a deal!

At the check-in desk, the list of other hostelers was foreboding: 75% were German. In general Germans are great, but here in New Zealand they tend to be young, as in 18, 19, 20 young. Which means they’re not really good at choosing hostels, since they can’t plan well, and don’t regret it. In other words…

Germans : hostel :: Flies : carcass

The owner gave us the standard intro: key-deposit, check-out time, and discount cards? Every puff of breath carried stale tobacco. Still, he was friendly and thorough, and I felt a surge of hope. The property, derelict as it was, tended toward the beach. Please, please, please. Maybe, just maybe, our double room was right… on… the…

… street?

When cars rush by every five seconds, their windshields reflect sunlight through our blinds and across the wall; give it 20 years, and the Easter-yellow paint job might even fade to reflect that fact. At night, two exposed, fluorescent tubes imbue the linoleum floor with extra industry. As for the bathroom sink, it could not possibly be narrower without ceasing to be a sink entirely, instead becoming two faucets that spew onto the floor. There is no sink “bowl” to be spoken of here; more like a sink “hot dog”. Anyone who’s used a baguette-sink knows that its design makes bending toward it is a necessity, especially in the case of toothpaste foam. But at some point someone affixed a cabinet just above the sink, making a forehead bump inevitable. There IS a gap between the two, leaving just one option: a serious craning of the neck resembling Shaquille O’Neill’s TNS, or Taco Neck Syndrome. Ah well. At least the view from one window is green as green can get: the signs, from nearest to furthest, are for Subway, John Deere, and BP. All great if you’re into farming and sandwiches from space, but we’ll head to the nearby bakery, thank you very much. For after all, who wouldn’t go to a bakery whose sign reads:

coffee – toilets

Talk about options! Why, I could spend all day in there!

OK, OK, OK. I should be fair. The room is large, we do have a patio, and we’re quarantined from the other hostelers. Also, the bed has memory foam – and remembers only us. Between our room and the Subway is a house with a pet seagull (lame wing) and a penguin.

So I guess what I’m railing against is this one, very specific, mismanaged strip of Kaikoura. Say, 100 square meters’ (yards’) worth.

But if this section could just… disappear – if this section could get sucked into a black hole, or were bulldozed and allowed to be reclaimed by jungle – if this section could be strafed and then firebombed and then flamethrowed – and then had acid dropped on it – boiling acid – and then hungry grasshoppers – then Kaikoura is one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen.

Kaikoura is a horseshoe bay. Instead of sand it has rounded gray pebbles that massage with a good hot hurt, and between those pebbles and the town are train-tracks that rumble our bedroom pleasantly five times a day. To the left (the north), the bay’s hemmed in by 6,000-foot (2,000m) mountains that plunge full tilt into the sea. To the right it has a finger-like peninsula, home to hundreds of fur seals. Apparently they smell bad, but all we’ve smelled here is the sea and sunbaked seaweed. There’s no boardwalk, just a sidewalk, and the tourists stroll down it with ruined hair, burnt noses, and seabreeze goosebumps. As a very touristed town, the food is mediocre at best and, at worst, induces diarrhea, which does make you happy for that private, double room.

We weren’t in Kaikoura for diarrhea, though. We were here for something else.

It was related, at least tangentially, to a hunk of polished white stone. There’s a lot of white stone in Kaikoura, and it projects like dorsal fins from the shores. This piece was in the middle of a lawn. It had been removed from the sea, polished up, and placed by the Tom Smith trail, on the walk to the peninsula,

Most of the time a memorial is just a memorial, a piece of stone, like a headstone. But, like a headstone, sometimes they stop the world from spinning for just a second.

The memorial was to “Captain Tom,” who died on June 16, 2003. When we walked by on December 22, 2011, there were flowers on top. On the day he died, a humpback whale had gotten snagged in some fishing nets, and Tom, as he had done about a year earlier, jumped in with a mask and fins. At some point, while unwrapping the lines, the flukes came down on him. On the memorial there was a four-line poem about Captain Tom setting sail.

Well, Captain Tom, I never met you but you sound like you were a really great guy. The world needs more people like you – a whole lot more. And, on that note, it was time to see some of those animals you loved.


Tags: ,

2 Responses to “Kaikoura I”

  1. From Mark/Dad:

    This is one of your best written yet, Con. Loved the video and the landscape drawing.

    Posted on December 23, 2011 at 17:28 #
  2. From Esther:

    Hilarious! I had to stop myself from laughing, though. It’s 6.15 in the morning and there are people sleeping in the house. god knows why.


    Posted on December 30, 2011 at 06:16 #