Thar' She Blows

Trip Start Jun 10, 2009
Trip End Sep 07, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Monday, August 3, 2009

The train to Kaikoura was pretty great: there was a live commentary from the conductor, and it was incredibly scenic. That's one thing I really like about New Zealand: since it's so small, during the two hours we were on the train we went through mountains and over plains, went along the coast and through forests, saw vineyards and sheep and even a couple of seals on some rocks. By the time Dom and I got settled in our hostel, it was evening, so we just took a walk around town and picked up a bit of food before retiring to the hostel for a movie and bed.

That day Sebastian and Phillip told us they were coming to Kaikoura too, rather than travel counter-clockwise around the South Island like they had planned, so we had some time to kill the next day before they got there, or so we thought. The only real thing to do in Kaikoura are the whale watching trips, but since the other guys were coming we put it off a day so we could all go together. Of course, they got down to Kaikoura at 10:30 that morning, right in time to go whale watching if we had had a reservation, but since we had already reserved spots for the next day, we had to wait. We drove north of town a bit and hiked down a short trail to a waterfall where seals played in a pool beneath it. It was cool; the seals were really curious and would come up and sniff your hand and gather around you.

Afterward, we drove out on a nearby peninsula to a so-called "seal colony", but we only saw one seal asleep in the sun near the car park. We were able to take a trail up to a lookout on some bluffs and get amazing views of the town, the bay and the ocean, though, so it was still worthwhile. After that, though, we had pretty much exhausted the worthwhile activities of the town and spent the rest of the day just wandering in a sort of bored haze, occasionally snapping out of it to stare at the snow-covered peaks of the Kaikoura Mountains that were visible from virtually anywhere in town. After a couple more movies we went to bed.

The next day, we headed to take the whale watching cruise. We were loaded in a bus and taken to the marina where we got on one of the five boats the company owned and headed out to sea. Kaikoura is known for its whale watching because of some deep underwater canyons close to the shore that sperm whales visit and hunt in. We ended up seeing three or four whales, but it wasn't as great as I had hoped. We had heard it described several times as an almost spiritual experience, and in some cases even life changing, and while I didn't expect anything like that, I expected more. It was sort of cool to see the whales, but they just sat there breathing and then dove, and even that, which is the best part since their tail comes up and splashes underwater, was just all right. Over all, it was enjoyable, but, for me at least, not worth the expensive price. The best part wasn't even the whales: when we were heading back to shore, we ran into a pod of hundreds of dusky dolphins. As soon as they noticed us they swarmed the ship, running up and down the sides and popping out of the water. It was great, and it made me wish I had taken one of the tours to specifically see dolphins rather than whales.

After the tour, we piled into Sebastian's car to head to Hanmer Springs. Since another German, a girl named Eli, had come with Sebastian and Phillip from Blenheim, we had to cram five people and all our luggage into this tiny car. We all had stuff in our laps; I don't know how the car made it. But we eventually got everything in and set off on an uncomfortable drive.

Since I have a camera now, I have photos for this entry, but don't have a way of uploading them yet. I'll retroactively add photos to all these entries later.
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