Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A town called 'eat crayfish'

Kia Ora Kaikoura

kai = 'eat'
koura = 'crayfish' (rock lobster)

I've just returned from a brief summer sojourn in the North Canterbury seaside resort town of Kaikoura, the Whale Watching, dolphin-swimming, crayfish-eating eco-tourism centre of New Zealand.

My trip wasn't planned as a holiday - I was there for a family funeral. But I stayed right on the seaside in a very beautiful meeting-place between mountains and sea, where the wild life abounds, and that's just the backpackers!

One morning I breakfasted outdoors at the Craypot Cafe, the one with the big sign 'DON'T FEED SEAGULLS'.

Well, while I was there nobody fed the seagulls, deliberately anyway, but as you can see by the boldness of the lone seagull keeping vigil over the table next to mine, the seagulls do post deputies to keep a close eye on the situation, ready to call in a flash mob at any opportunity to scavenge leftovers. Not long after I took that photo, the diners left the table and then seemingly out of nowhere all hell broke loose.

A whole screeching flock descended, beating wings, all alighting onto the table at once, snatching the food and scattering the plates, knocking the tall glass tumblers onto the floor where the arcoroc proceeded to smash into a thousand tiny pieces and scatter across the whole terraced area. The noise and commotion was tremendous, and as this was all happening so close to me, I automatically adopted a defensive pose as if I were under attack myself.

Scenes from Hitchcock's terrifying The Birds flashed into my mind.

If I had been wanting to watch a film rather than recreate one in real life, I later found a charmingly well-kept old movie theatre, the pinkly resplendent art deco Mayfair:

The last time I stayed in Kaikoura for any length of time, it was not the busy and crowded tourist destination it is today. What a change there has been from the peaceful village atmosphere I remember from the first of many visits to see Aunty Grace and her branch of the family tree. I was a 'townie' growing up in the big smoke, and I remember sleeping out on the farm up on the top of a hill and looking up into a sky that contained more stars than I had ever guessed were up there. The stars were so bright and so numerous I was awe struck. I had never realised before that Auckland's lights had been hiding the true beauty of the night sky from us 'city kids'.

So I'm not surprised this little paradise on earth has been 'discovered'. But as I noted in an earlier post about finding a giant exclamation mark in an idyllic spot, the warning signs do indicate that not everything there is totally 'clean and green'.

I do enjoy being in a cosmopolitan atmosphere and trying to pick all the accents and origins of the tourists, especially if they are speaking an unfamiliar language. (Thanks to Paul Theroux, I have a new useful guideline: "When you cannot understand a single word, it is usually Hungarian.")

I was almost tempted to go watch the whales and the dolphins and the seals, because it seemed like tremendous fun, albeit rather expensive. If I hadn't already fraternised with whales, seals and dolphins, then I think I would have paid up for the sight-seeing. But I have been lucky enough to live in several different places on the North Otago coastline, also a popular basking place for seals. 'Right' whales and orcas regularly visit Warrington beach, where I also lived, so I've had the privilege of watching those magnificent animals lolling about just behind the breakers.

On my last morning as I was packing my things together, the motel cat miaowed at my door just before 10 am. I opened the door to find the proprietorial pussycat looking up at me. "Miaow," repeated the cute tabby-and-white. Accommodation is at a premium in Kaikoura this time of year. I took the miaow to mean "You have to check out by 10 am or we will charge you for an extra hour."

Clever cat!

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