It's been over a year since the earthquake that shook this coastal north Canterbury tourist town and its surrounds to the core. But Kaikoura's now very much open for business and now, as of December 15, so is the all-important State Highway 1 from Picton, so there's no excuse not to go!
1. Swimming with dolphins
This is one of the most amazing things I've ever done – right up there with a safari in the Serengeti and the Great Wall of China. I started my trip with Dolphin Encounter (great café, great staff, great organisation – just all-round great) not thinking I'd actually go in the 14-degrees water, but I donned a wetsuit and accessories anyway.
But when we were greeted out at sea by a pod of hundreds of dolphins, I slipped in and played with the beautiful creatures until my fingers started to freeze. At one stage, I looked down through my goggles and there were seven circling beneath me. A bucket-list absolute must-do.
2. Looking for whales
I love helicopters so couldn't get in pilot Dan's South Pacific Whale Watch chopper quickly enough. From the air, I was gobsmacked at how beautiful Kaikoura looks with the turquoise sea meeting the snow-capped mountains.
The whales stayed under water, but unlike their migratory humpback cousins up in the islands, the local sperm whales are permanent residents so they're in or around Kaikoura all the time. I'll catch them next visit.
This time, we flew up the coast to check progress on SH1, blocked by slips from the earthquake. What a massive feat it's been to make that road safe and get it open for summer traffic. Well done, everyone!
3. Seal of approval
Thanks to the deep underwater Kaikoura Canyon, this bit of coast is rich with sea mammals. As well as whales and dolphins, I was hoping to get among the seals, but sadly had to pass on a safari with Kaikoura Kayaks because of my many and varied injuries.
Instead, I walked up to Point Kean lookout for the astonishing view, then came back around the coast where I spotted a grand total of one seal. Next time, I'll pick up a paddle, but I have to say the walk was magic.
4 Food and lodging
I stayed at the White Morph, where I loved the view, the beds and the shower pressure. The first night, I walked to The Pier Hotel for crayfish and chips. Yum! The second night, I went in the other direction to the town centre and chowed down at Zephyr. Breakfasts were had at Dolphin Encounter and the Beach House. You certainly need not go hungry in this walkable town where crayfish is king.
5. Spreading the love
The Kaikoura people have been through a lot since they were woken in the night by more than one rude shock, but they've pulled together and now you'd hardly know there'd been a quake. Lovely Lynette from Dolphin Encounter put it best when she said of how everything has come together, "I really don't know how it all works out, but somehow it just does!"
The word of the year is "patience", which you'll need too if you're driving to this beautiful part of our world.
On the plus side, I've never seen so many friendly stop/go people and watching the road workers (think choppers and abseilers) beats even the best game of "I Spy". Go to Kaikoura – show them you care.