A Whale of a Time - Picton and Kaikura

Trip Start Sep 15, 2008
Trip End Jan 20, 2009

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Where I stayed
Ranui Cottage

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, January 5, 2009

A Whale of a Time - Picton and Kaikura

The ferry trip from North to South Island was a pleasant one, with very little time spent in the open sea.  This is because both the North and particularly the South Island of New Zealand stretch out thin tentacles of land towards each other.  Consequently the last hour or so of the journey was spent up on deck, watching, as the boat weaved its way along the narrow strip of water between some of the forest landscape that makes up the South Island's Marlborough Sounds.
We landed at the small harbour of Picton, had lunch and then spent the next 2 or 3 hours driving south towards Kaikoura.
Up until this point, despite dire warnings from guide books about the necessity to book accommodation in advance from November onwards, we'd never had a problem finding anywhere to stay.  Arriving around 6.00 p.m. in the small coastal town of Kaikoura we thought our luck may be about to change.  Instead of the usual 'Vacancy' signs that we had come to expect, the word 'No' appeared at every one.
We later discovered that we had chosen to arrive in Kaikoura on the same Saturday night that 2000 Maoris, plus the equivalent of their king, had descended upon the town, to hold a celebration that only takes place every 25 years!!
Thankfully we happened upon what must have been the one and only room to be had.  It was tucked down a side street on the outskirts of the town, with fabulous views across the bay to the snow capped mountains.  It billed itself as 'boutique'  At the time we hadn't a clue exactly what 'boutique' accommodation was and are still not totally sure, but basically it seems to be something that is that little bit different.   As far as we were concerned it meant we had somewhere to stay!!!  The owner was absent - attending the Maori bash.  She had left a note pinned to the front door telling us to call a certain number if we wanted her one remaining room.  We did so and moments later a gentleman called Doug arrived and directed us to our room, which wasn't locked anyway!!  With instructions to "make ourselves at home", he drove away.
We unpacked and took ourselves into town for a bite to eat. 
Afterwards, wishing to find out about a possible whale watching trip the next day, we headed for the harbour, only to be stopped in our tracks by the most amazing sunset.  It's hard to describe what we saw and no description could convey the beauty and wonder of the moment as we witnessed something which must, in some ways, have been akin to the Northern Lights.  The sun was setting to our left, bouncing light off the snow capped mountains in front of us, with the light somehow then reflected on to the sea to our right, which threw up a band of bright red and then in turn directed the light back in an almost laser-like display.  Everyone was commenting about it the next day, saying they'd never seen anything like it..  Unbelievably neither John nor I had our cameras with us, although even with photographs I doubt if the moment could have been adequately captured.  We jumped into the car and drove the mile or so back to our accommodation, grabbed our cameras and managed to snap the tale end of what had been a truly magnificent display.
The next morning saw us joining a high powered catamaran to take us some 7 or 8 kilometres from shore to do a bit of whale-spotting.  The cat fairly ate up the kilometres, with the result that a few passengers had to resort to the use of paper bags and sadly never got to see anything.  John and I thankfully were not amongst their number and at the first opportunity were out on deck, eager to see what we could. 
Sperm Whales were apparently what we could expect to see at that time of year and there were two known to be in the area.  The only problem is that Sperm Whales tend to only come to the surface for 5 - 10 minutes and then dive down, remaining submerged for 40 minutes or so - not terribly helpful when we were only out at sea for a couple of hours!!  However we were fortunate enough to come across  two Sperm Whales at different locations, plus, at a third location, a young Hump Backed Whale.  Exciting though it was to be within a few metres of the large Sperm Whales, as there was never that much of their bodies showing at any one time, we both had to admit that the stars of the show were the Dusky Dolphins who were in the same area as the Hump Backed Whale.  They seemed to be determined to put on the very best performance possible for us, with several dolphins leaping in and out of the water in all directions.  There was one particular dolphin, who you could swear was playing to the crowd, as time and time again he leapt from the water and travelled backwards, balancing on his tail.  The display must have lasted for a good 20 - 30 minutes and in fact, as our time was up, sadly we had to sail away from them, rather than them swimming away from us.
After returning to dry land and having a late lunch we had a walk along the coast, observing the plentiful bird life, as well as the scenery, before returning to our accommodation to get ready to go out for dinner.
The next day saw us continuing our drive southwards with our next destinations Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook
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