Saturday, 24 November 2007

Paikea

edited 28/11/07

THERE is a town just north of Christchurch of which I am very fond. It is called Kaikoura, Maori for 'meal of crayfish', and it is a most remarkable place.

A former whaling village on the eastern coast of the south island of New Zealand, the town is laid out on both sides of a lone headland in miles of rugged shoreline. It has a pebble and shingle beach leading into a cyan sea, and is nestled at the feet of snowcapped mountains. At dusk the town shimmers with blue.

The first time I came here, at the beginning of KiwiExperience, I caught a catamaran called Wheketere out into the Pacific Ocean in search of whales. This area of coastline is fortunate to have a short fragment of continental shelf dropping suddenly into the abyss, bringing plentiful wildlife close to the mainland. Indeed, in the space of two hours at sea I saw sperm whales resting on the surface and then diving below, a fifty-strong pod of dusky dolphins and seals sunbathing by the beach. Throughout the year whale-spotters might find pilot, blue, humpback or southern right whales, and maybe even orca off of these shores.

The town is also renowned for its seafood, hence the Maori name, and is home to a shack selling "the best seafood in New Zealand". This it may be, for it was mightily tasty, but in my case it wasn't cooked properly and, well, I shall say no more...

In 2002 an excellent film called Whale Rider was released. Set in Whangara, a small coastal Maori village, the local people believe that their great ancestor Paikea arrived on the back of a whale. Every leader of the tribe since has been named Paikea, and every one has been the first born son. That is, until Pai was born, for Pai is female. Though Pai believes she can be the leader of the tribe, the story follows her attempts to prove herself to the patriarchal village elders.

If Whangara did not actually exist, Kaikoura could easily be that village. It now has its fair share of tourism, but the spirit of the place lies with the gorgeous expanse of water it lies beside.

Since leaving Kaikoura I have been travelling rather intensively. I have come from the blue of that place, over the Cook Strait and through the browns of the volcanic plateau of Tongariro, past Mount Doom and on to Rotorua, a city that if anything is very yellow - the surrounding region is rich in sulphur, making the lakes and soils yellow in coloration. It also smells pretty foul as a result.

Apologies for the slow rate of posts - for reasons that will no doubt be explained at a later date I am very busy. And on holiday, mind.

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