Kaikoura: A special place

Trip Start Aug 11, 2010
Trip End May 21, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

As we drove south towards Kaikoura we knew it was going to be a special place. Hills and snow-capped mountains on one side, and blue ocean on the other. We stopped en route to investigate the huge brown lumps we saw on the rocks beside the sea and came up close and personal with big fat fur seals. Their size is admittedly intimidating up close despite the fact that they look at you with disinterested nonchalance. One that was behind me started its somewhat slow, lolloping journey to the sea and I quickly got out of its path.

When we arrived in the small town we were stunned by the surrounding scenery. The faded concrete and purpose-built blocks from the 70's that characterise many British towns were absent here. Instead, a low-rise town with sea murals sat comfortably beside impressive snowy peaks that met a calm and clear sea. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t quite comprehend this unique scenery. It seemed natural, given the circumstances, to take a long walk along the sea-front to try to take it all in. Also, it seemed natural to stop halfway round and attend an advertised sheep-shearing show. Well, when in Rome....

It was the slightly odd, quirky experience we were expecting. After feeding a lamb milk from a baby’s bottle, we watched a farmer shear a sheep pretty slowly. It was rather awkward watching the sheep struggle for what felt like an extended period of time and it was a bit uncomfortable pretending to laugh when the bald farmer put the sheep’s wool on his head. After learning about the different breeds of sheep, we gratefully took our wool sample and left and couldn’t help but feel that the £5 each might have been better spent at the seafood BBQ down the road..... To be fair though, the farmer did kindly let us stay in our campervan in his field at night so perhaps it was money well spent.

The following morning brought with it lots of baas from the sheep as well as much excitement and anticipation. We had arranged to swim with wild dolphins which was something that we both have really wanted to do for a while- especially me. So after a refreshing wash in the public toilets by the beach, we went to the dolphin encounter office and waited to be processed with the other 20 people. After being supplied with wet suits, boots, flippers, hood and snorkel, we watched an informative common sense briefing on safety (something that is taken VERY seriously here in NZ) and then got on a bus and were taken to our boat. Thankfully the huge group was divided up and put on two different boats.

After a short drive out into the sea, we started to see dolphins jumping and saw a wandering albatross flying nearby. Not long after we were told to put our snorkel gear on and sit at the back of the boat. In our excitement, looking like clownish seals didn’t phase us as we waited to get in the sea. When the horn sounded we obediently got in and swam to the spot everyone on board pointed to. As the briefing had instructed us, we sang loudly and ridiculously to try and entertain the dolphins. Paul and I tried to coordinate our song but we soon gave up and Paul instead resorted to a high-pitched bass-line to accompany my random classical humming. I am not sure why I thought that the dolphins would be attracted to classical tunes, possibly due to the intelligence I hear so much about, but it seemed to work as several dolphins swam round us, curious about our odd arrangement. It might be a bit clichéd to say it but it really was a great experience. Having eye contact with dusky dolphins, playfully swimming in circles alongside them, and watching Paul dive down amongst them was something special. We went in the water three times in total and were lucky to constantly have dolphins swimming with us. Maybe word spread amongst the dolphins about our weird singing as, at some points, 4 or 5 would swim round us. Incredible. It was also pretty cool lifting our heads up from the water to see dolphins jumping and spinning above the waves too, just metres away from us. We felt very lucky.

After this experience, we faced the challenge of getting out of a wet suit on a swaying boat surrounded by unlucky sea-sick passengers with happiness. The hot chocolate and ginger biscuits only added to our glee as we stumbled to the front of the boat to watch the dolphins swimming and jumping. We felt that the trip was unforgettable and made as good as it could possibly be by the professionalism and friendliness of the staff at Dolphin Encounter. Visiting Kaikoura turned out to be a real highlight.
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