We have spent two weeks in Kaikoura which is on the east coast of the Southern Island of New Zealand. A two hour drive north from poor earthquake battered Christchurch, it is a place that has haunted our waking dreams for over two years.
Originally a whaling town, Kaikoura has a peninsula that gives it a northern and southern bay and just off shore there is a deep undersea trench that teems with so much sea life that the ocean is bouncing with whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, fish and the crayfish that give this place its Maori name. Geography lesson over.
Wifey and I spent a day here two and a half years ago basking in an afternoon sun while sat out the back of The Whaler drinking Monteith’s Radler . The ocean glittered blue/green behind us and snow capped peaks dominated the view north. During the moments where we have questioned the wisdom of this trip, like with the rain battering on our corrugated iron roof in Costa Rica, huddled under blankets in snowy Chile or on hearing gunshots in the night in California, we have wished ourselves here.
Radler is a New Zealand brewed lager that some of the locals call God’s Tears and it is a marvel and a curse. A marvel because it’s 5% strong but washes through your mouth all crisp, sparkling and delicious. But it’s also a curse because you quickly grow to loath inferior lagers; I found myself growling at a Carlsberg advert that was on TV last night and the memory of drinking Budweiser or Foster’s makes me angry.
We are staying in a hostel, Dusky Lodge, which attracts a multi-national multi-aged swarm with most people stopping for just a day or two. The whales they used to hunt here are now the principal tourist attraction and while the size of a sperm whale does knock your socks off, the speed and athleticism of the resident dusky dolphins blows them clean off the ocean’s stage. 25 km up the road there is a fur seal crèche where pups are left by the adults while they go fishing. It is a pool under a waterfall where pups leap, splash and play fight unconcerned by the presence of people with their own squealing young.
You could live here alright, providing you take two or three jobs which everyone staying here long term seems to do; an Irish guy in the hostel cleans here for accommodation and works at the Strawberry Tree pub for food, beer and pocket money. A trainer at the local gym cooks at The Whaler and there is a busker/ wine merchant who also claims to be Lord Mayor. At this point I must remember to say “Moi” to our new Finnish mate Henri.
“Hostel?” you say, “like what winos live in?” – yeah, just like that only the balcony outside our room overlooks the mountains and the ocean, the TV has got Sky and we have grown uncommonly accustomed to having a sauna, pool and Jacuzzi. Our much needed detox week was helped by the tap water being as nice as water can be.
Detox over; at the weekend we sat outside until 1am drinking whiskey with Jacob, a big Maori guy, and his mates after New Zealand won the rugby World Cup. I didn’t have the first clue or interest in rugby and probably still won’t have when we leave here but it was so important to the Kiwis that you couldn’t help getting caught up in it. On this occasion the team overcame their natural inclination to choke: finalists France were organised, brutal and were grinding New Zealand out of the game with the Kiwis 8-7 ahead. One kick would have been enough for the French to win but New Zealand had the ball and despite looking like they were going to lose they got up and fought back harder. With the crowd in The Whaler, and probably the entire country, shouting “Heave heave!” at the final scrums The All Blacks won through sheer mental and physical toughness. It was ugly and primeval and I’m not sure I want to see another game but we were caught up in the moment and to see a nation earn something they wanted so badly was heart warming. And to us, as Newcastle fans, unusual.
I have proclaimed myself His Excellency The Grand President of the Newcastle United Fans Association of Kaikoura (HEGPNUFAK). I was elected unopposed to this position with Wifey refusing to recognise my authority and having no desire to join any club that would have me as a member. She did however join me to see a delayed showing of our game against Wigan at the weekend.
I got up at 6.30 on Sunday morning to stake out a claim in front of the only TV in the building that has Sky. So I saw Norwich draw at Liverpool with Andy Carroll just failing to score in the 5th minute of 3 added on minutes of stoppage time. I guess people must be taking Liverpool seriously again if they are having games lengthened for their convenience like in the old days. I was joined by a South African lad called Grant for Bolton v sunderland. Grant supports Man U because he is old enough to remember South African Gary Bailey playing for the reds and is thus defensive about being called a glory hunter. Later by the pool, he turned out to be a superb football free stylist, during a performance where he did a handstand on a balcony with a football trapped between foot and shin on each leg.
I explained to Grant what the FTM flag was behind the goal and he said, “but they are not playing Newcastle, why would they do that?” – Because they are creepy and obsessive about us like filthy trousered perverts.
Halfway through the second half of our disappointing and lacklustre performance against arguably the worst team in The Premiership we became aware of another presence in the room, a lass. “Is this from yesterday?” she asked. “About 3 o’clock this morning but yes in that it’s Sunday and this is Saturday.”
“Doing quite well Newcastle,” she continued, “more luck than anything probably.” We muttered darkly, unwilling to be distracted from concentrating on the grinding frustration. Deep in the back of my brain I picked up an accent, in our peripheral vision she was twitching when we were twitching but introductions could wait. As you no doubt know, Newcastle improved in the second half although chances remained elusive, bloody typical of us to lose to this lot, we thought. When you can hear individual shouts inside SJP it is traditionally time to worry so what joy, what a nice surprise and how wonderful of Yohan Cabaye to score such a peach to win the game for us. All three of us jumped up shouting at the goal and then we gasped and twisted on our sofas as Newcastle held on.
Ashleigh the lass was called, her Mam lives in Gosforth. She hasn’t lived in Newcastle for 12 years but has visited and is due home for Christmas. We chatted all morning then, as is often the nature of hostels, we never saw her again.
It is a strange transitory life this. Exciting and boring, encouraging and over whelming, with all the good and bad that comes with being rootless, homeless and beholden to no one. Tomorrow I must hang up the ceremonial seal-skin robes and dolphin- head hat, put down the whale bone sceptre (that exist only in my head) and give up my title as HEGPNUFAK for we leave Kaikoura. This feels easier than I expected. For one reason I see that Rise Against have released my favourite recent song Satellite as a single and have added a heap of new dates to their gruelling touring schedule. It is bad enough that they are in Newcastle in November but the list of dates now includes, Rome, Prague and Moscow and it is never a list that is going to have Kaikoura on it so we can’t live here. Also the mountains are shrouded in fog today, rain falls on our view of the sea and we have been in one place a fortnight. More than enough, even for a place with the best bar and chip shop you could imagine.