For the amazing sea-people of Kaikoura
27.07.2012 - 27.07.2012
So I am currently 1 year and 23 days into my 15 month adventure in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Sheltered from the rain in Auckland’s public library, I contemplate my experiences so far and decide to share them, for the first time, online. Travel does many things to people, and the gained appreciation for social networking is definitely one of them. It has certainly been a gradual change of attitude for me during the last year or so; realising the current interest, throughout the world, in cultural experiences, and the opportunities that the mighty online world can offer.
Fitting for this first chapter of my new online social life is the beautiful seaside town of Kaikoura. One of only 2 locations in New Zealand’s stunning south island that has kept its traditional Maori name (for those interested, Kai-koura means food-crayfish). As those who are especially close to me, or have had the fortune of witnessing my (lack of) aquatic abilities, will know, I was not made for the water. Furthermore, I feel no shame in admitting that I am rather terrified of the sea. In fact, I can’t think of anything worse than being in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by the many trillions of different species capable of eating me alive. Of course, I’m exaggerating for effect, but the fact is I am not a million miles away from the truth. Just recently a fishing boat hurled on board an entirely unknown, and ridiculously large type of squid – now cleverly named the ‘colossal squid’. It is 33 foot long, weighs 495 kilograms and can live as far as 1 kilometre below the water's surface! I have read since that we actually know more about outer space than we do about our own deep blue sea; scary I know.
So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that, upon arrival, I decided to go cray-fishing. I’m not entirely sure on what my thinking was at the time, as I also have less than zero interest in fishing and don’t particularly like sea food. But what can I say… I’m stubborn, don’t like to give up and enjoy a challenge. I’d also heard rave reviews about Jerry the Fisherman, the New Zealander who ran the trip, from many other travellers who had excited me with stories of them catching sharks, seeing dolphins and being treated to far too much wine afterwards back at Jerry’s shack. I guess it was always going to be an experience, whether for good or bad, which is why we bother flying halfway across the world in the first place right?
Okay, so now the optimism is out the way, reality soon kicks in. What I didn’t mention before was that I also get incredibly sea sick (surprising I know), which became a dawning possibility once, after meeting Jerry, he told me that it is now too late for medication as the wind is picking up, so we needed to get out on the boat as soon as possible. Any medicine would have taken at least an hour to kick in anyway, by which point I would probably have already been drop kicked and given the figure-four leg lock by the newly discovered ‘even more colossal squid’. So I would just have to make do.
Jerry, who by this point is my guardian angel, my sure-to-be hero if anything or everything goes wrong, then decides to leave us at the boat with his two fisherman friends Nick and Bo, while he relaxes back at the shack and awaits our safe return. Perfect. Bo, in case you’re wondering, barely spoke a word of English. Nick, on the other hand, had a wooden leg and, as became apparent, a complete lack of awareness (or care) of anything going on around him. It is generally in the nature of kiwis to be extremely laid back but Nick was truly in a league of his own.
Soaring through the water, the sun glistening upon the endless flow of ocean ahead, i felt a certain amount of optimism in the air. Small figures in the distance bobbed up out of the water, followed by their friends: ‘look, dolphins bro’, Nick exclaimed in his typical casual state. I examined them closely, entranced by the elegance and freedom in their movements. Perhaps there is no creature more enjoyable to watch; the kind of sight that would install hope into even the most cynical and heartless humans. If there were dolphins on Normandy Beach I reckon the war would have stopped there and then; with Germans and English alike standing hand in hand to enjoy their splendid displays, then exchanging hugs and kisses before retreating back to their homes and families. Perhaps I’m being optimistic but such is the whimsical feeling you get when exposed to such a sight. I find myself endlessly curious about how the dolphin evolved into the animal it is today, and what a magnificent life you could lead living amongst their ranks. Perhaps there is sanctuary in the sea for me yet.
However, as my new friends disappeared out of distance, the small boat rocked over the oncoming waves, getting larger as the wind picked up the further we distanced ourselves from the town. After thumping up and over the relentless peaks Nick finally stops the boat. Fishing rod in hand, I wait for the bite. Bo explains that as soon as the line hits 80 feet down there should be a tug straight away. Crayfish are all over this stretch of sea and are very easy to catch in great numbers. However, like lobsters (in appearance also), they are incredibly expensive in restaurants and a whole cooked crayfish in even the cheapest cuisine will cost you at least 60 dollars. It is not uncommon to pay well over 100 dollars though. Jerry and his pals catch dozens every day on the boat and so the pressure was on for the irish couple (also on the trip) and I to deliver.
1 Hour later and we had nothing. The anglo-irish fishing team had failed. However, I hold very little responsibility for the poor result as I personally only contributed 3 minutes of intense winding to the proceedings, before throwing up continuously for the remaining time. I could hardly be held accountable. If this was a football team, I was the water boy who only managed a short jog from the bench before tripping over his shoelaces and somehow knocking himself unconscious on the referee’s sharp, bony knee caps. Thankfully, there was no stadium of fans watching my performance. Just two careless Kiwis and an irish couple determined to outperform the English in at least one sport during their time on Earth; which, in fairness, they did infatically. Curled up on a stool at the front of the boat, I waited for our eventual return to shore. I felt weak, as if every possible fluid, artery and organ had been sucked out of my body.
Back on land Jerry greeted me with a smile that said: ‘told you it would be fine didn’t I’, ‘and by the way, don’t worry about not catching any fish, I’ll let you off’. In my mind I envisioned the colossal squid falling from the sky on to his head. We all strolled (I limped) into Jerry’s house and he cracked open the first of 4 bottles of wine that stood on the kitchen table. As I had nothing that even resembled a carbohydrate, or blood vessel, left in my body I figured the wine would have to be drunk cautiously. Which it was, until a ridiculously large pack of crisps restored my body almost back to normal. 2 bottles down and Jerry and Nick were sharing stories of their sea adventures to us with infinite detail. I sat in amazement at the everyday efforts of fishermen, and how indescribably difficult they would be for the average man. Nick showed me videos of whales that come just a few metres from his boat at times, and the albatross that he calls after and always comes for its daily feed. Nick is also an expert diver and often dives with just the very basic equipment, no one else manning the boat, and the ocean’s many creatures at his disposal. Plain and simple, these guys love it. It is their one and only passion (excluding wine as it turns out).
Perhaps the most memorable story was Nick’s desire to swim with killer whales. It is one of the only sea creatures he is yet to truly experience in the water and, as the name suggests, is probably why he is still alive. When questioned, he simply replied: ‘if I die doing so then it would be a very happy way to go.’ This, from a guy who has already lost one leg, has a child living in England to care for and who’s entire trade and lifestyle requires his physical ability both on the boat and in the water. All I remember thinking is: ‘Wow, this guy is really not afraid.’ I never asked how he lost his leg as I did not wish to ruin the social, fairly drunken (3 bottles now) mood that the room was blessed with, but I’m guessing it was also sea-related. Instead I just enjoyed Jerry’s many crayfish recipes, cooking tips, life stories and eventual fourth bottle of wine. It was now dark outside as the evening progressed and the cocktail of laughter, wine and memories winded down. I paid Jerry, shook their hands and wished them well, knowing I wouldn’t forgot my day with the Kaikoura fishermen.
I think that those who dare, who truly believe, and who follow their hearts are those that have no need to fear. Perhaps it is this spirit and determination that keeps them from suffering. Just look at Steve Irwin, a fearless crocodile hunter who was never unfortunate enough to suffer the defeat of so many others while presenting himself in the hands of fate time and time again (not by a crocodile anyway). I am a passionate, opportunistic and brave person, and so can relate to Nick, Bo and Jerry in many ways. But when it comes to the sea, the mysterious, unknown ocean, they are something very different. In hindsight, questioning Nick’s wooden leg would probably have been a welcome opportunity for yet another of his eccentric stories, and yet another example of his courage and immensely loveable personality. Even now I don’t doubt that Nick will swim with killer whales, and may well die in the sea where his heart belongs, but there is nothing I want to see more than his tattooed, rugged figure perched on a whales back while he laughs and dances in celebration. Maybe then I will find control and peace in the ocean, knowing that, if worst comes to worst, I will be following those with the heart and soul of the sea, and who it took only 1 day to inspire my appreciation of their beloved world.