Swimming with the World's Rarest Dolphins!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, February 10, 2012

Our final stop in the North Island (for the moment) was Wellington, and the drive into the region was awesome. The hillsides are covered in light green grass and with the sun reflecting off it, the area looked amazing. Apparently a lot of Lord of the Rings was filmed here, and actually it looks a bit like the hobbits 'shire', although I couldn't tell you whether it is or isn't.
Wellington is a really great city, the waterfront isn't as impressive as other places we've been but the city has a great vibe about it. We spent the morning in the Te Papa museum which is really good, it's very interactive and well set out so doesn't get boring as quickly as other museums. (It may be uncultured to say that but it's true!) 

The rest of the day we spent exploring the city, we had lunch in a jazzy bohemian cafe and then caught the cable-car to  get a better look at Wellington from the top of the hillside. Whilst Katy enjoyed the trip she wasn't impressed with the naming, she maintains that it's a cable train rather than a cable car.
That evening we crossed over the Cook Strait on a ferry arriving into Picton on South Island after midnight and it was raining a lot. A few kilometres South we found a free camping spot and simply climbed through to the back of the van to get some sleep before waking up early AGAIN to get down to Kaikoura. This is somewhere we were very excited to visit as it is has a lot of Dolphins, Whales and Seals along the coast. 

I had read about an area just off the highway where you walk into the forest, coming to a waterfall and in the pond at the bottom of the waterfall you can find seal pups playing the day away whilst the parents are out fishing. Sadly, when we got there we found out that the Seal pups are only in the pond in the winter months and now the pups would be bigger and head out to sea with their parents. Initially we were disappointed but then just a few hundred metres down the highway we found them. There was a huge colony of seals including dozens of pups playing in rock pools next to the sea, so we stood taking photos for ages whilst traffic came flying past us on the highway. We tried to spot dolphins and whales whilst having a picnic from the van overlooking the area but to no avail.
Then we were off again to the most exciting part of the trip so far... Akaroa and swimming with dolphins. 

When planning the swim, I read that Akaroa is the best place in the world to swim with dolphins (even better than Hawaii) because the dolphins here are the smallest, rarest and friendliest dolphins you can swim with. Hectar dolphins are a little over a metre long and they only live off the coast of New Zealand, many of them living in Akaroa harbour.
Akaroa harbour is stunning, there are very few properties around it and the scenery is amazing. French settlers initially came to Akaroa and so it has tried to maintain it's 'french heritage' by naming all the roads 'rue' and having little french bistros and cafes near the waterfront. To be fair it works, and its a charming little town. We stayed the night near the harbour and had fish & chips (from New Zealand, not France) before heading out to sea the next day for our dolphin swim. 
When we arrived at the dock, the lady checked us in and then told us that the previous group had seen the dolphins on their trip but that they were getting a partial refund as they didn't get to swim with them. This was a warning because that can often set a trend for the day. 

With our expectations lowered slightly, we donned our very sexy wetsuits and boarded the boat which took us out of the harbour and into the Pacific ocean which, due to heavy winds, had an enormous ocean swell (again dampening our hopes of swimming with them). 

Not long after we left the harbour, Katy spotted one of the dolphins (all that whale & dolphin watching in Sydney paying off) and we waited to see if it would hang around long enough for us to have a chance of a swim. But it disappeared pretty quickly which then happened 3 or 4 more times. Eventually a group of 3 came over and were swimming much more slowly and reappearing quite often. They told us we could give it a try and Katy and I were the first in the water. 
In our briefing we had been told that to get a good swim with them you have to entertain the dolphins otherwise they will get bored and swim away. This means singing into your snorkel, or bashing things together, anything that makes a noise. Katy took this task very seriously and nearly gave herself a hernia bashing her snorkel and mask together. But it did work and we had loads of dolphins swimming right up to Katy, no more than a metre or 2 away. 

It was amazing and you soon forgot that the water was absolutely freezing! 

We feel very lucky as we so nearly booked onto the first boat of the day, which would have been a big disappointment but as it turned out we got a brilliant swim with them. 

That's one to tick off the bucket list!
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