Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Whales and Dolphins and Seals Oh My!

As this was our second night in Kaikoura, and we’d stayed in the first due to the rain, we decided to go out, we’d spy’d a bar with what seemed like good value food (and it was) and an open mike night. We arrived just before happy hour started, so walked up and down the street, sat down and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Two pints at £2.50 going up to £3.75 and shared a seafood basket, my first chips in weeks! One old boy turned up and started setting up, to be joined eventually by a random assortment of guitar/bass/harmonica players, not the ‘real’ drummer, but there was a ‘spare’ though he really wasn’t very good and away they went, chopping and changing, the real drummer turned up, people played and sang, not all of it very good, but a great atmosphere none the less!

The forecast for our whale watching trip was really not very good, but the morning dawned very early (06.45) and was fine, the sea was calm and the weather was coolish (I just kept my pyjama thermals on and put thick trousers over the top)! We were the first boat out, so drove off to where whales had been the previous day, looking out all the while, watching Gibsons wandering albatross soar passed. Amazing birds, look like gulls but giant, 2+metres wingspan, didn’t expect that!
Gibsons wandering albatross
 Once ‘on site’ put the sonar out and listened, only trouble is they only use their echo location at depth when looking for food, so you need to find one making a noise, and wait for it to go quiet as that means it’s on its way up. We got to the vicinity of one whale when suddenly we were off,  the helicopter tour had spotted one, so off we whizzed, and there it was, a sperm whale, the size of the boat, sending up little spouts to empty its lungs and blood of carbon dioxide, before bending once or twice and then tail up, head down, off to find more breakfast. B was desperate to get the iconic tail shot, sadly the camera had other ideas as the battery went flat! 

We headed back to ‘our’ whale, listened again, followed a bit, listened again, silence, and then there it was, same sort of size as the first, 18m ish, and again, we got so close, it really was very special. This time the fresh camera battery didn’t let him down and B got the shot!
Two whales down we headed off to look for Dusky Dolphins, without much effort, there they were, hundreds, all about singly and in small groups swimming alongside the boat, leaping about, backflips just because they could! I’m glad I’m not the cameraman as I’d always be so afraid I’d miss something! Amongst all the dolphins suddenly there was a seal, whether he wanted to be a whale or  a dolphin we are not sure, he tried showing his tail as the whales had, and swam and showed off like the dolphins. 

"I can be a whale"
They were all a joy to watch, they just made you smile, till time was up, please return to your seats as we need to speed back to base for the next trip! It was expensive, but also worth it (despite our top 10 campsite card giving us 10% off) to be so close to these animals, the whales for their size and power and the dolphins for their exuberance and sense of fun. I think I’d have enjoyed it more in the early tour days when you were just out in an inflatable, but we may not have seen anything that way as the modern boats go very fast in real comfort!

So back by 10.30 shower, pack up, and head north (stopping at the supermarket to buy green lipped mussels for tea $3.99/kilo) to Ohau Point, where conveniently, just before the road leaves the coast and heads inland there is a huge seal colony. Pulled up, and looked down on the rocks at 30+ seals. Males sizing each other up, females keeping out the way, and pups chasing and playing everywhere you looked! They can move quite fast and with remarkable agility on land! Fantastic to watch.
little cutie
Just round the next bend is another pull in with a small stream and a path leading to a pretty waterfall, where the pups play when left by mum off on a 2 or 3 day fishing trip, there weren’t actually any in the waterfall, but there was one on a rock 2m from the path just posing. He was a real cutie, about 60cm long and just SO sweet. We branched off the path on our way back, and watched a couple of females on a rock, one of them came over, so she and I were probably no more than half a metre apart, but she sort of barked, I felt a bit threatened and backed off and she seemed happy!
"Just step back please"
By the time we got back to the beginning of the track cutie No1 had been joined by cutie No2 and they were chasing and playing on the rocks, in the water, round and about having a fantastic time, all with an audience less than a metre away. You just don’t get this at home!
By the time we got to our campsite the forecast weather had come in, no rain, but grey and the wind had really got up, so camping 20m from the beach, facing the waves, eating moules marinieres, chilled sauvignon blanc what more could you want?
NZ green lipped mussels, and a chilled sauvignon blanc
"You're IT"
Woke the next morning, the sea was still rough and wonderful to watch, so I did that while B read the Saturday paper from cover to cover, before we set off to Blenheim and the promise of a good supermarket! So hard this life!

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