Winding Road to Kaikoura, Swimming With Dolphins, Scenic Coastal Trail, Haka Lodge, 5.5 on the Richter Scale, RWC Knockout Stages, Goodbye NZ!
After indavertently getting caught up in traffic outside Christchurch, we were soon on our way and after driving through heavy rain and up and down some large hills we were in Kaikoura. We found a hostel that had seen better days, parked up and ate our fish with some veggies and watched Lord of the Rings- the Two Towers.
It was another miserble day in Kaikoura, so we spent most of our time indoors, blogging and eating! We did venture outside to the i-site, and they kindly checked the weather for us (it was meant the clear up the next day) and we decided to book our 'Dolphin Encounter' trip. We had fish and chips for tea and bedded down in the night to prepare for an early start.
In the morning it was blue skies and clear! We could even see the mountains a short distance away that yesterday had been completely shrouded in cloud. At the centre that runs the trips, we saw a short video and got into our wetsuits, flippers and selected our snorkel gear. The sea was rougher than I was expecting, but it was ok and we had only gone a short distance in the harbour when we were told a pod of dolphins had been spotted, so got on our gear and were ready to jump into the water. It was chilly initially, but I got used to it- we all began to make lots of noise, as dolphins are curious by nature and likely to come over and investigate what is going on.
The dolphins came over and began to swim really close to us, and were quite playful. At times they would swim under you, or jump. We swam four times with them- this pod seemed to keep coming back for more!
Soon our time was up and we got out of our wetsuits, had a quick hose wash and got changed. I sat outside though as I was starting to feel a bit seasick and nibbled on ginger biscuits. The dophins began to follow our boat, and a few were showing off by doing some somersaults and jumps!
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After lunch, and as the weather was still good, we did a walk along coast and cliffs in the southern part of town. Some of the views were spectacular and we also saw a few seal colonies (and also saw some tourists getting a bit too close to them- and the seals snarled at them!). We had a seafood snack of garlic prawns and then decided to stay an extra night in Kaikoura and save us a drive to Hanmer Springs. After dinner we watched the finale in of Lord of the Rings- The Return of the King.
We got up later than planned in the mornng and I drove as fast as possible to our hostel in Christchurch, the lovely Haka Lodge. We dropped off our bags and then drove over to the Spaceships depot and said goodbye to Boba- although he was old, and broke down on our second day, he was a trooper and it was sad to say goodbye.
Back at Haka Lodge, which was more like a boutique house rather than hostel, we made dinner and sat down to watch a few rugby matches, including Wales vs Ireland, and France vs England. Wales were worthy victors, and France saw off an embarassing England.
Our final day in NZ was spent chilling out- after our first nights sleep in a bed for some time, and we skyped home along with catching up on the blog. Also, since the huge earthquake in Febraury 2011 the Christchurch CBD has been closed off and there isn't much to do in the city at the moment. Its really sad to see the impact on the city- houses are still skewiff and there is ongoing sewage and road repairs. In Kaikoura we had met a couple who live here and had gone north for a break and they explained it did not feel like home anymore, and that people are leaving the city in droves. In the evening we again had dinner whilst watching rugby (accompanied with NZ wine). During the Australia vs South Africa match we had our first NZ quake experience. We had felt a couple of tremors here and there (especially at night) but this one felt pretty big to us. The was a group of us watching the match and we all got up to go outside, but then the tremor/quake stopped- the Kiwi's who were watching the match with us assured it was all ok, but it was quite a freaky experience. We found out later it was 5.5 on the Richter scale, but you don't have to worry unless its 6 upwards. The match was entertaining- neither team played amazingly well, but the Aussies pulled through. We then watched NZ vs Argentina, a disappointing game, but the All Blacks made it through after a shaky start.
We were up early to post our cards and get our transfer to the airport in Christchurch. Ajay also gave me a NZ pressie- a cute little blue penguin soft toy he had managed to buy covertly from the Visitor Centre- I loved it and named him Percy. We left NZ on a high after drinking some fresh spring water from a fountain in the airport-direct from the hills behind it! NZ is a beautiful, warm and friendly place and I would love to come back again- after going to Colombia of course!
The 8 hour drive to Kaikoura got exciting when we had passed Christchurch and the route started to wind around hills and cliff edges on the eastern coast of New Zealand's South Island. We reached Kaikoura in the early evening and checked into an old rambling guesthouse in the centre of town which had space for campervans at the back. We cooked the salmon that we had picked up earlier for supper and enjoyed it with a glass (or two!) of white wine and then found LOTR: The Twin Towers in the extensive videotape collection in the communal lounge so ended up watching that before turning in for the night. Two down, one to go.
Our main motivation for coming to Kaikoura was to see some of the abundant marine life (whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, albatross etc) in the region and, in particular, go swimming with dusky dolphins. Thus the next morning after checking into another holiday park further down the road we booked ourselves onto the Dolphin Encounter excursion for the following day. For the rest of the day we had a little explore around Kaikoura town centre, caught up with some blogging and sampled the locally renowned fish and chips. From our holiday park we could see the snow-capped peaks (2610m) of the Seaward Kaikoura Range which provides a spectacular backdrop to the town centre; this is one of the few places on earth where such large mountains are so close to the sea.
The following morning we woke up to clear skies over Kaikoura bay. This bode well for our doplhin swimming trip as there were likely to be calmer waters. After reaching the Dolphin Encounter office, climbing into a wetsuit and being armed with snorkel gear, we sat through a safety briefing and a little talk about how the morning would progress. We then headed out by boat to a suitable location in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast. Once we spotted a group of dolphins, the boat was stopped and we jumped into the open waters and started making funny loud noises to try and attract the dolphins. Ridiculous to look at but it worked! The water was freezing cold but we soon forgot about it as we swam around and dolphins started to swim past us. We would see grey streaks suddenly appear from nowhere - it was a bit unnerving and freaky at first but we soon relaxed and it was an amazing experience to be so close to them.
Kaikoura's dolphins are the dusky dolphin. They live together in groups called pods (anything from 100 to 1000 in each pod), range from 165cm to 195cm in size and weigh anywhere between 60 and 90kg. Dusky dolphins are reputed to be amongst the most acrobatic of all dolphin species.
The dolphins we saw on the day were certainly curious and playful and would swim around you and, on occasion, perform manouevres such as a 360 degree turns, jumps and side slaps in the water. Over the next hour and a half we had four swimming opportunities with the dolphins after following them to different spots in the ocean. On the journey back to the mainland, while we warmed ourselves up with hot chocolate and ginger biscuits, we saw dolphins swimming behind and up alongside the boat. A few of them jumped out the water and did somersault flips - an amazing sight!
In the afternoon, after lunch, Am and I took a walk along a trail (known as the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway) around the cliff edge on the southern end of the town. Along the way we saw some fur seal colonies and got some great views of the bay.
There was also a small outdoor information board on the trail where we learnt about how the ocean-current and continental-shelf in this particular region interact to create an environment that is so full of marine life. We discovered that the sea bed off the coast of Kaikoura gradually slopes away from the land to a depth of about 90m, then plunges to more than 800m. It is in this zone that warm and cold water converges and when the southerly current hits the continental shelf it creates an upwelling, bringing nutrients up from the ocean floor into the feeding zone thus allowing marine plant and animal life to thrive.
On the approach back to Boba we also picked up some fresh garlic prawns as a snack. After abandoning the idea to drive to Hanmer Springs, we decided to stay another night in Kaikoura and drive to Chrsitchurch in the morning. We defected back to our original guesthouse thus allowing us to watch The Return of the King, the third and final part of the LOTR trilogy, whilst in NZ! Task completed - jobs'a'good'un!
The next morning we drove from Kaikoura to Christchurch, our last port of call in New Zealand and where we were flying out of in a day's time to Australia. We checked into the lush Haka Lodge and dropped off Boba before the 4pm deadline. It was sad to say goodbye to Boba who, after an initially shaky start, proved his mettle by lasting the full 48 days without any further trouble. Big up Boba!
Our stay at the warm, comfortable and cosy Haka Lodge was great - it was easily one of the best places we'd stayed at during our time away. That evening we got back on the Rugby World Cup trail and watched Wales beat Ireland in a great game and also France dumping a poor England out of the competition.
We didn't venture out into Christchurch during our time there as the CBD was still closed. A lot of buildings were still in an awful state in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the city earlier in the year. Roads were still broken and we could see the ground raised and split in certain areas. The earthquake was such an unfortunate event for the region as prior to its occurence Christchurch used to be one of New Zealand's most liveable cities.
The following day was also spent relaxing at the homely Haka Lodge catching up with some blogs and watching Australia beat South Africa in a Rugby World Cup quarter final - a scrappy but tense game. During the match we experienced an earthquake. We'd felt little tremors in the previous 24 hours but this was noticeably much bigger. When it hit, the tremor lasted about 5 seconds and was 5.5 on the richter scale. We looked at each a bit nervously but our Kiwi hosts reassured us that it was nothing to worry about as they have been experiencing tremors of this size regularly since the big devasting earthquake earlier in the year.
The next morning we bade farewell to New Zealand. It was sad to leave as we'd had an amazing time exploring the country in Boba but we were now looking forward to what Oz had to offer!