The World Around Us

Getting tattooed in Kaikoura

Country: New Zealand by Lisette



Whale watching

As I recall, there’s not much going on in Kaikoura except for whale watching. After a first try to see whales in British Columbia (Canada) in 1999, I wanted to take opportunity to see these mighty animals.

And wow, was I ever lucky. I didn’t get to see one, not two but three whales! As the tour guide explained the boat was 18 meters long and therefor one to two meters shorter than the whales I felt awestruck.

Now before we saw the whales, we saw hundreds of happy tumbling, jiggling and racing Dusky dolphins. Naturally, we tourist peeps were hoping the whales would also tumble in their own way.

Then again, as the Marine Biologist shared a whale speeding up from deeper depths to the surface to fly high up in the air is to alleviate its constipation I hoping a few percent less. Imagine seeing the gorgeous sight of a whale flying out of the water and getting rain on by its excrement…

Especially after learning the whales swimming happily underneath our boat are as large as a Boeing 737 and weigh six times as much!


Yesterday was my birthday and I gave myself a unique and much-wanted gift.. A tattoo!

Maori tattooing

I had been eying tattoos ever since I arrived in Auckland. New Zealand is the place to get a tattoo because the history of tattooing starts in Polynesia (including Samoa, Hawaii and New Zealand). In Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud (New Zealand), Maori tattooing their faces (moko) relates to their “signature” (status, lines of descent and tribal affiliations) and their bravery. Courageous, because the skin was carved with a chisel!

The moko and puhoro (intricate tattoo extending from mid-torso to the knees) came back in swing in the 2000s. Central to these tattoos is the spiral motif (not seen anywhere else in Polynesia); it reflects pitau, the unfurling fern leaf representing the beginning, or the navel (pito) symbolizing a solid foundation.


Lisette’s own tattoo!

So for years I had wanted a simple brown tattoo. I never thought so far as design, but I knew I didn’t like the harsh colour of black – instead, I wanted a more elegant colour that I felt was complementary to my pale skin.

The step to get a tattoo was never taken. I imagined the horror of the pain (I am a wimp when it comes to self-inflicted pain) and envisioned the horror of people around me when they saw my tattoo. But here in New Zealand, I knew the time was right. I was ready for pain and give myself a meaningful and highly personal “painting”. And if people back home wouldn’t like my tattoo? “Who cares?” I thought. “My body, my decision and my pleasure”.

And with that mindset I asked Bianca, a lovely Dutch woman from Amsterdam whom I’d met here, to come with me for some moral support. A tattooist came recommended and I sought him out. He was forthcoming, explained a few things and after a quick discussion he asked me to return later and let him create a sketch.

It actually took a few sketches before I was genuinely pleased with the end-result. (Sketch #7!) The advice to colour the tattoo fell on my deaf ears, and with all due resect for the symbolism of patterns, I didn’t really want one.

What enamoured me were the fern-like curls representing my solid foundation: my family and my friends.

Massively nervous, my right leg started wiggling just like when I was a young child. As soon as the needle was sterilized I closed my eyes and started focusing on my breathing rhythm. In. Out. In. And out…

Each time the needle went into my skin my brain focused on breathing out oh so slowly. Thanks to Bianca I have a faint idea what happened because she was so kind as to talk quietly about what was happening. The joke ran I breathed like a goldfish on land!

The pain was even worse than I thought. There was a moment I thought, “That’s it, no more!” But after I jumped up to check it out in the mirror, realization set in the tattoo was not even halfway done and that I wanted it.

This tattoo is the best decision I made in a long time! Happy Birthday Lisette!