“I think we just need to take a moment and acknowledge that we have very different lifestyles.”

It is 6:45 in the morning, and Georgia’s comment is a blend of serious, sass, and silly. My sister and I just endured a pretty terrible night’s sleep, and I suppose she’s right. I don’t think it was that bad, but my optimistic, only semi-planned adventures have a knack for inevitably turning into misadventures. This past weekend is no exception. Having experienced it firsthand, my sister will adamantly advise you to respectfully decline if you ever get a camping invitation from me. Whoops.

We left Saturday morning for an overnight in Kaikoura, a peninsular village two and a half hours up the coast. Its resident population is less than 2000 people, but it has become something of a tourist hotspot for its plethora of marine life, including whales, dolphins, and seals.

The original plan was to get up early Saturday morning, hike the classic track up to Mt Fyffe and back which a classmate recommended to me, and camp that night. We would spend a lazy Sunday in town, eventually moseying our way back to Christchurch.

From the get go, plans didn’t pan out the way I thought (do they ever?!) We got a late start, so fitting the hike in that day would have been pushing it. But we were headed there anyway, so I just figured we would enjoy the sea and sister time. What would be would be. Just outside of Christchurch, we picked up an Austrian hitchhiker named Karin, who also happened to be heading to Kaikoura. She had been waiting for an hour on the side of the road and was starting to lose hope. Lately I’ve been crossing paths with lots more people traveling the world, but Karin, at 46, is twice the age of most people I meet. She was briefly married, has a grown daughter, had a partner for a decade, and is now very content to be single and traveling for nine months. She saw my printout of Mt. Fyffe in the back seat.

“Hey! I’m doing that hike tomorrow! Would you be willing to drive me there?”

Well that works out. I agreed to pick her up at her hostel the next morning at 7:30, and when we arrived in town, we split. Right when I got out of the car, I saw a sign for swimming with seals. I raised my eyebrows and looked to Georgia. “You interested?”

I walked to the back where a guy was cleaning wet suits.

“So I know I’m probably completely out of my league to even be inquiring this last minute, but…any chance you have room for us to swim with seals today??”

He checked the book. There were two spots left on the last tour of the day. Hot dog! I love it when spontaneity works out.

Two hours later, Georgia and I squeezed ourselves into wetsuits and headed down the coast with our group to get up close and personal with the seals. And boy we did. Despite the frigid water, the wetsuit kept all but my hands and lips fairly comfortable. We jumped off the boat feet-first and swam over to a rock mass just off the coast boasting a sizeable fur seal colony. It’s not like we were surrounded by dozens of seals in the water, but those that jumped in and cooled off were not afraid of us at all.

Even though the water is really blue, you can still only see about two meters in front of you. So you’re swimming along and then BOOM, there’s a beady-eyed seal right in your face. Their bulging pupils really detract from their cuteness, but it’s so cool to see them under water anyway. They are swift and graceful, and I had no idea how much they swim upside down. You’re not allowed to touch them, but there’s a good chance they’ll brush by you. I hate to admit that I freaked out the one opportunity I had. It was so close to me, and I couldn’t help but jolt back when it dashed forward toward me. Alas. Regardless, it was a really neat excursion, and up to this point, Georgia and I hare having a great time.

Then there was the camping. I am not opposed to hostels or official campgrounds per se, but I kind of just have it in my head that with so much open land here, there is no reason to pay to camp next to a bunch of other people.

“Fine,” Georgia said. “But if we get fined, it’s all on you.” So I found what I thought was a pretty wicked site. Beach front isolation and a full moon. How sick.


And it was, until about 3:30 in the morning, when these hurricane level winds began lapping incessantly against my tent, literally pushing it over at a 70 degree angle. If we slept at all, it was restlessly light, on and off. Georgia got up to pee and saw bike tires all around our site. She shared with me the next day that she actually thought we could be abducted and die. I was not quite as concerned, but as I laid there awake, my mind did jump on the midnight worry treadmill.

What about the tide? I didn’t even think about that! Ugh, I’m an idiot. The beach?! WHY would I choose a campsite on the beach? Rookie mistake. How long am I going to be a rookie? Is this wind ever going to go away? Maybe we should move back up to the car…

Eventually, we did, carrying the tent still fully constructed with all our stuff in it, and breaking a pole on the way. The move didn’t help; it was just as windy for a few more hours and finally settled back down around dawn. So the next morning, grateful to get on with the day, I shake Georgia’s shoulder.

“Ready to get up? We gotta pick up Karin in an hour.”

She just looked at me like I had lost my mind.

“I am not going on that hike. Like, zero, nada, heck no.”
“And what? You’re just going to pull a Hoffa and sit in town all day at a cafe?”
“Ohmygosh, you suckkkk.”

Nothing like a sister for being frank.

Mt. Fyffe is not a glorious hike. It’s pretty much a four wheel drive road going straight up; the reward is the view at the top, where you can see the whole peninsula before you and the Kaikoura mountain range behind. I was bummed Georgia didn’t come, but in fairness, I’m learning that hiking just isn’t fun for everyone. She doesn’t see the what’s to enjoy about walking straight up for three hours. I can respect that. I tried to convince her to come just for the first stint. That lasted about ten minutes, and I was already getting some pretty aggressive facial expressions and the quintessential pinky (the Georgia finger).


So I let her turn back. In that sense, it’s probably a good thing that Karin was my companion instead. I got to soak in some incredible views and befriend a stranger. Georgia got to FaceTime her boyfriend and read. The hike is supposed to take eight hours, but we gandered it would take us less time. We told Georgia to come back in six hours, and we met at the trail head right on time.



As usual, the weekend didn’t turn out as I anticipated. Even though we’re different, even though I’m often my worst self with her, I’m so glad Georgia is here. Perhaps we just won’t be camping together anymore. But that’s okay. I could do with a few more seal excursions too.



2 thoughts on “Kaikoura

  1. Read your post several times. What a hoot! So glad Georgia is with you and would love to read the two separate accounts of this trip and am confident sister love will prevail. Keep experiencing life and having fun. Stay safe. Love ya both, Mama Carol


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