The Canterbury Tales: Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs

“Shit!” the Kiwi yelped along with the echoes of awe by the others watching when I successfully shot the clay target with the shotgun. “Have you done this before?” I smiled quietly, acting cool despite the pain in my shoulder when the handle recoiled back into it that later left a terrible bruise. It was exhilarating watching the clay blast into bits in the air over Waiau River, but also disturbing that – as a pacifist who has never held a gun before – how good I actually was with a weapon.

This last part of the trip across the South Island was not going too well for me and it felt great that I finally did something right. Indeed, reminiscing this final leg of my New Zealand journey between Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs has left me laughing to tears about my challenging battles with nature and wild animals.

We started in Kaikoura, a quiet little coastal pocket just under three hours drive from Christchurch. Famed for whale-watching, the scenic east-coast drive led us to this small town and we decided to remain local by renting a private room. The awkward, middle-aged lady with several cats was not the friendliest of people, remarking on the thefts that have occurred by the numerous tourists invading her community. “I hate tourists,” she said while eyeballing me. An awkward smile led me to explain my exhaustion and need for sleep as I looked around her dusty home, the antique clutter of numerous bric-à-brac, teacups and picture frames curiously decorated her tiny dwelling that it was hard for me to imagine anyone wanting to take anything at all.

In the morning, we decided to begin our adventure by taking part of the Peninsula Walkway stopping first at the Kaikoura seal colony. I had my brown puffer jacket and it was commented on how well I blend into the landscape as numerous, brown seals dotted the beach. Thanks. Jokes aside, we were unaware that we should tread with caution as some fur seals can become aggressive if you get too close and my desire to take a snapshot found me running down the beach with this shrieking, furry mammal on the chase.

* That awkward, nervous laugh moment where you feel scared and embarrassed at the same time…

Despite the fright, the chill of the winter, the smell of the salty sea and the slippery rocks across the beach was truly beautiful, snow-capped mountains in the distance and the dark, cold sea ended over the horizon as though I could see the edge of the world. I love being along the seaside when it is cold, walking down the beach and hearing the sound of the waves crash against the spongey sand with no one in sight. New Zealand really is incredible.

We reached the port and jumped on a ship filled with people passing through the town eager to get out into the sea for an afternoon of whale watching. A small collection of humpback whales had stopped to visit Kaikoura as they migrated from the colder Antarctic waters, so I was very lucky that I managed to see them just as I was feeling unwell. “Have these ginger and turmeric pills,” the lady at the office had recommended earlier to prevent nausea, but as the speedboat bumped across the rough water, my stomach churned into an acidic curry that I regretted ever listening to her. Avoid at all costs.


After being carried off the boat, pale-faced and overwhelmed by the sea-sickness, we drove to Hanmer Springs. Finally, some time to relax in the natural thermal springs after a wild twenty-four hours and indeed the bed and breakfast we stayed in was stunning.  I had the chance to peel off my hiking gear and sleep in a comfortable bed, but above all our Polish hosts were amazing cooks, making us an incredible omelette for breakfast. The resort town is surrounded by incredible mountain ranges and often hosts wealthy families eager for a long-weekend escape with both the popular thermal pools naturally produced by a fracture along the fault below, but also numerous activities available including clay bird shooting and horse riding around the surrounding forests.

Of course, I went horse riding. I was matched with a wild, white Mare and we both were two kindred spirits. I love horses, but she very much disliked being told what to do. As I used my legs to transition toward a trot, my horse did not respond well and as I am light weight she became confused and decided to run faster despite pulling back the reign until, soon enough, she became aggressive. It was not good timing as we decided to move up toward the cliff edge. It was also my fault and the gorgeous creature eventually came around as we traversed through the green, untamed landscape.

While we had only a short time in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’ South Island, it is an incredible place and I will be spending more time in the region soaking in the incredible natural wonders that it offers. Wherever you drive around the Island, you are feasted with beautiful, rolling hills and mountain ranges. In saying that, without preparation, you can easily make mistakes and being an adventurous place offering extreme sports, you will also be at risk of potential injuries. Otherwise, the third most beautiful country in the world will easily become one of your favourite places and will gift you with unforgettable memories.