Seal spotting...and hitching!

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

I left the city behind early on Tuesday morning, and headed up the east coast to Kaikoura. I was there just after 10am! The weather looked fine, so I could go through with my plan to walk around the peninsula. The Information Centre informed me that low tide would be at 1.30am, which was just about perfect. So after a quick wander around town, I set off in pursuit of seals...

I'd barely began my journey when I got a call from Sealord, the company I'd applied to work for in Nelson. It was perfect timing as I was still in a quandry about whether to go to Blenheim or Nelson the following day. I was told that there were no vacancies for my preferred option of day shift, but working nights was a possibility. My heart sank at this point as I didn't fancy working until, say, 6am then trying to sleep in a hostel during the day. Fortunately, nights meant 3.15pm until 11.45pm - not ideal but still ok, so I accepted. Next problem, I had to attend an interview/medical/induction the following day at 3pm, and there was no room for manouevre or I could forget about starting work for another week. I had no choice but to accept, and I'd worry about how I was going to get from Kaikoura to Nelson at a later stage.

Things were kind of looking up, so I continued my walk in a better frame of mind. The first 45 minutes were along the beach front, as I headed around the bay until I reached the first seal colony. I could see a few seals in the distance, playing on the rocks, but I decided to continue up and along the clifftop walkway - the owner of the hostel had told me about a more impressive colony further along the track.

The walkway, and indeed Kaikoura in general, was very scenic, characterised by rolling green hills and a backdrop of huge mountains with a covering of snow on their peaks. It was nice to be breathing fresh air again!

The main tourist attractions in Kaikoura are whale watching and dolphin swimming. Just a short distance off shore, the ocean plunges to a depth of more than 800m, which apparently brings an abundance of nutrients up to the surface, thus attracting all kinds of marine life. So I made sure that I kept one eye on the ocean during the walk, hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse of a sperm whale.

After briefly passing through a swarm of sandflies, I descended onto the beach at the other end of the walkway, and made my way to Aphia Point. It took another 30 minutes as the rocks were slippy, but it was great as not one other person could be seen.

All of a sudden, I spotted a couple of seals frollicking just metres in front of me. As I tip toed closer, more and more of them appeared, most of them sleeping in the sunshine. When one spotted me, a bit of a commotion followed so I ambled up the short, grassy cliff until the fuss had died down. I sat there for an hour and a half, just watching the seals sleep for the most part. Occasionally one would wake up, confront another one, make a lot of noise, then go back to sleep again! I was fascinated to be within 10 metres of a colony of between 50-100 seals, with no other tourists around to scare them off. Just before leaving, I slowly crept towards a seal that was well aware of my presence, and got to within 3 metres of it. He was a very laid back character, and a very cute one too!

The walk back to Kaikoura didn't take long, taking me through a small village and along the main road.

I had a quiet evening at Dolphin Lodge, as I'd come to the conclusion that my best option was to hitch hike to Nelson, i.e. an early start the next morning! A lot of the shuttle buses didn't go direct to Nelson. so it would take 2 days to get there. The Intercity coach did go direct, but it cost an extortionate $50 and I'd be cutting it fine as it arrived there at 2.35pm!

So I woke up at 7am the next morning, and walked 2km to the best hitching spot. I was a little concerned at the lack of traffic, and for an hour all I received were hand signals from people going a different way, and blank faces from people who presumably were pretending not to see me! One guy did pull over, but my hopes were dashed when he said he was only going 10 miles up the road. No point in accepting, as I needed to travel a couple of hundred kilometres!

I was on the verge of giving up and taking the Intercity coach when a girl called Shauna pulled over and asked where I was going. "Anywhere" I said, and it turned out she was going to Blenheim to pick up some flight tickets, so that was more than half the distance covered. It was a bonus that she was an attractive young brunette, and when we stopped at a cafe en route, I bought her a capuccino and a muffin as a thankyou. Unfortunately, we returned to our picnic bench after a quick stroll through the gardens to find half a dozen seagulls tucking into the huge boysenberry muffin! Still, they kindly left about a third of it so all was not lost.

Once in Blenheim, I went to the Information Centre to explain my situation and ask about the quickest way to get to Nelson. It was the Intercity coach that arrived at 2.35pm! The dark clouds were gathering, which put paid to any lingering hopes of hitching another ride. So using the last remaining minutes of my Flexi Pass, I bought a ticket for $11 which meant I'd saved $39 by hitch hiking - not a bad effort, although admittedly I spent a further $10 at the cafe.

Typically, and for the first time since I arrived in New Zealand, the Intercity coach was late - 20 minutes late! I was getting agitated, but I called Sealord to explain that I might be a bit late. When it did eventually arrive, the driver took his time, chatted to passengers, and took an absolute eternity to write out a ticket for someone who hadn't bought one in advance! I'm sure I was over sensitive here, but as it stood I had precisely 5 minutes to walk to the hostel, drop my bags off and make my way to the Sealord factory. Tricky!

As it turned out, the coach arrived in Nelson at 2.45pm, and I helped myself to my back pack as the driver was painstakingly giving directions to somebody. I arrived at the beautifully cosy Shortbread Cottage at 2.55pm, and finally reached Sealord's at 3.13pm - what a day!
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