Fun with Flipper

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

*sorry the internet we've got isn't good enough for the videos to upload yet so you'll have to wait in eager anticipation for those!*

Welcome to dolphin central!

Today was the day we had been planning carefully to ensure the best weather and sea conditions so we might be lucky enough to swim with wild dolphins. I tentatively opened the door of the tent to see what the weather had in store and was so pleased it was a warm morning with a still ocean and a beautiful clear sky with the sunrise just about to set in.  We had a bit of a drive from the campsite into Kaikoura so we got to see the sunrise all along the coast and were accompanied by lots of seabirds along the way.  I was very cautious to keep an eye on the sea conditions bearing in mind our whale watching expedition in Canada when I was so sea sick I couldn't even lift my head up to see the whales when we found them.  Thankfully everything looked calm for the time being at least so I stood a fair chance.

We checked in at the office and got directed to the changing rooms to be kitted out in the hippest snorkeling gear from wetsuit to flippers and then we had a presentation to watch about what to expect on the trip.  Being my pessimistic self I decided not to allow myself to get excited at all and to assume we wouldn’t see any dolphins, Steve on the other hand would have been bouncing up and down with excitement if not for the restrictive movement of his wetsuit.  The presentation made it very clear that the dolphins are wild and it is entirely up to them if they chose to play with us or not, sometimes people do not see any and sometimes they swim off once people get into the water, they’re only located by eye-sight from the boat so who knew what we’d be lucky enough to experience.

I would have paid for the boat ride alone, zipping out across the ocean on calm waters with the sun beating down for warmth and snow capped mountains as a backdrop.  It was a beautiful day to be at sea – and the boat was well equipped with sick buckets just in case.  Then all of a sudden our guide pointed to a dark patch of water up ahead and as we looked five or six dolphins were midair doing somersaults and flips in front of us and even I had to admit it looked promising!  Then before I knew it we were sitting on the back of the boat and lowering ourselves into the water.  I really wish I’d given myself more time to plan for actually swimming with dolphins and slightly less time convincing myself it wasn’t going to happen because as soon as I found myself in the middle of a pod of 400 wild dolphins I wasn’t entirely sure what to do next.  I went wrong initially by forgetting to put my snorkel in my mouth and swallowed a gallon of sea water gaping as three or four dolphins were circling around me.  Once I orientated myself with the sea and got into prime snorkeling position I couldn’t get my head around just how many dolphins were around me and how fast they move nor the other problem of having to breathe through my mouth and not my nose which felt very unnatural.  In all the flurry of activity I either forgot to breathe altogether or just started hyperventilating with excitement so had to take a bit of a breather and didn’t keep up with the pod and other swimmers.  This turned out to be quite a strategic plan though as soon enough the pod turned and swam right towards me so I was nose to nose with more dolphins than I could count.  I tried out one of the tips from the presentation of swimming in circles to attract their attention and managed to keep one dolphin entertained for a while who was following me swimming round and round until he ultimately outpaced me and came out the clear winner of the game.

We got back in the boat to relocate to the middle of the pod again and for the second swim I was far more prepared and focused on my breathing so got to enjoy it a lot more, I even remembered I had a camera to use this time!  I decided to swim behind Steve to try and get a photo of him but that just made me laugh in my snorkel and swallow more water as he was trying to do breast stroke wearing flippers and not getting anywhere fast (don’t tell him I told you that!).  Steve was using the fancy new waterproof camera we bought which does take great photos but inevitably it is not easy to take photos of the dolphins as they move so quickly so the videos we took are far better than the photos to see what we actually saw.  As we had bought the new camera I decided to risk one of our other cameras in the 5 waterproof bag we bought in England and it worked surprisingly well so we were both able to make our own underwater documentaries.  We had one more relocation and swim which for me was the best as I was now prepared and confident in the water so we got some good videos and Steve would have got some good photos if we’d had more time to get used to the new camera, instead we got some lovely shots of his finger over the lens.  I tried out another of the tricks we were taught in the presentation which was to make dolphin like noises through the snorkel to attract their attention, this didn’t work for me as I just couldn’t figure out how to breathe at the same time as squeaking.  Steve mastered it though much to my amusement as his squeaks very much sounded like he was saying 'Hello’ this is captured on the videos nicely so have your speakers on and try to spot the difference between the actual dolphin noises and Steve’s attempts.

Back on the boat we had a chance to get changed out of our wetsuits and into dry gear but it was surprisingly warm and just as most people had got half dressed the dolphins started a somersaulting and jumping display so the boat was full of half naked people taking photos for a while.  We then got fully dressed and got to watch the pod for about half an hour while eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate which was all magical.  We had dolphins playing right by the side of the boat and as far as the eye could see out to sea and surprisingly close to the shore.  Still the combination of how fast they moved and the fact we were on a moving boat meant we didn’t get the photos we really wanted but we got enough to get the point across I think, lots and lots of dolphins!  At one point a cheeky seal came to play around the boat too pretending to be a dolphin to get some attention, he moved even faster than the dolphins it was incredible – next time I’m defiantly doing a seal swim. 

Sadly we then had to plough back to land, a half hour journey on a quite ‘bumpy sea’ (not the correct nautical term I’m afraid) and my stomach did start to feel a bit fragile.  I was afraid I was going to be sick and embarrass myself as everyone would then know just how many cookies I’d managed to munch through.  Thankfully I stayed intact, unlike quite a few others on the boat so the whole morning was a successful mission for us.  On top of everything we even got to have a hot shower afterwards, a welcome treat for two smelly campers!  It really was a fantastic trip and we had a whole afternoon left to enjoy Kaikoura which lived up to its reputation well as a place hard to not fall in love with.  We had a seaside picnic and then a beautiful cliff top walk watching for albatross.  Sadly we took quite a few photos of a large white bird before realizing it was in fact a goose and not an albatross, how embarrassing. 

After a beautiful day we sadly said our goodbyes to Kaikoura and headed north through Blenheim to a campsite for the night which proved to be a lot further into the middle of nowhere than we had predicted so another opportunity to pitch the tent in the dark but after such a long day we weren’t awake for long to star gaze and soon drifted off to dolphin filled dreams.

The next morning once we could see where we were it actually turned out to be a nice beach we had stumbled upon so we had our porridge down by the sea before setting off for a lazy day in Marlborough Sounds.  We had thrown around ideas of cycling through the wine country or walking the Queen Charlotte Track but in truth we both needed a bit of a rest from our hectic schedule so we drove up into the Sounds and found ourselves a private cove and beach all to ourselves and just had a quiet day off from activity.  I set myself up with the laptop for some blogging catch ups with a glass of wine by my side and got myself up to date between keeping Steve entertained with numerous games of catch.  I have never met someone (who isn’t a dog) who can be so entertained simply by catching a ball for hours on end, unfortunately I am not the best playmate for this due to my lack of catching and throwing abilities but we humour each other anyway.

The next day we headed into Picton and just had time to complete a three hour track to the end of the peninsular before the heavens opened and we headed to our hostel for the night were we could indulge in tea and free chocolate pudding and ice-cream as well as meat for the second time on our trip.  Really living like kings once again.

Now we are on the ferry across to the North Island, where more adventures lie in store for us I’m sure, see you there.

Lots of Love,

Amy and Snorkeling Steve
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