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Gorgeous, lovely, amazing, spectacular Kaikoura! I never wanted to leave. We drove into town along the coastal road, where a black sand beach gave way to turquoise waters pounding with surf. Further out, the water turned blue. Our driver said it was where the deep trench begins that attracts so much marine wildlife to the area.
We stopped off to get an up close and personal look at a colony of about 20 fur seals. We were able to get really close because the steep cliffs let us sit just above them without disturbing them. As we watched, they napped in the sun, scooted around on the rocks, swam in the water, played and even fought a bit with each other. I could've sat there all day, but the disadvantage of a tour group is that you have to go when they say so.
In Kaikoura town, Sarah, Jo and I had lunch at Cooper’s Catch, a small shop at one end of the main street. I tried a battered piece of elephant fish and a corn fritter, which were both excellent. Then, I did a bit of souvenir/Christmas shopping.
I still had some free time before I had to meet the bus, so I wandered onto the beach, where snow-capped mountains hovered in the background and a seal napped on the sand. At first, he lay so still I was afraid he was dead, but then he changed position a bit. Later, Dec poked him and he snapped his head up, so he was definitely alive.
In the afternoon, we hiked along the sea cliffs. I’m obsessed with these views, combining the mountains and the beach. They’re exactly what I wanted when I came all the way to NZ. At one point, our hike passed through a field of cows with mountains behind them that looked just like Switzerland. We also saw more seals down on the beach.
At night, we had a bonfire on the beach, which was absolutely perfect. We sat on giant pieces of driftwood, feeling warm and cozy from the giant crackling fire. Behind us were huge dark cliffs, with mountain views to one side and the ocean crashing in on the other. Overhead was a bright, dense scattering of stars. We ate bananas stuffed with chocolate, which we wrapped in foil and warmed in the fire until the chocolate melted. It was a perfect evening.
Insanely early start to the day, but totally worth it! At 5:10 a.m., we took the shuttle bus to Encounter Kaikoura. There, we donned wetsuits and booties, and grabbed fins, masks and snorkels. Gear in hand, we watched a video on the wild dusky dolphins we were hoping to see. The company takes a very respectful attitude towards the dolphins. They reminded us that we were there to amuse the dolphins, not vice versa, and that we’d only stay as long as the dolphins wanted to play with us. They gave us some tips on attracting the dolphins (diving, making noise, swimming in circles) and reminded us never to touch them, because it would scare them away.
Just ten minutes or so after leaving the harbor, we saw a pod of dolphins darting around and even flipping in the air. Quickly, we put on our snorkel gear and jumped in… and they were everywhere! Our guide estimated that there were hundreds of them, and they wanted to play.
Following the advice of the video, we all started making noise, swimming with our hands at our sides, diving down, etc. For the entire time we were in the water, all of us were constantly surrounded by the dusky dolphins. They loved to chase us and to be chased, especially circling me underwater while I tried to pivot fast enough to keep up. They were really quick. A couple of them liked crossing over and under me, and one even played "chicken," swimming at me head-on and then turning away at the last second.
My favorite moments were swimming in the middle of a group of four or five of them, all of us going in the same direction for a few seconds until I couldn’t keep up anymore. It was amazing to see their faces so close up, and it was hard not to touch them because they were so cute.
It was so much fun to play with them that I kept laughing and sucking water into my snorkel. When I surfaced to breathe normally, I’d instantly be surrounded by the circling dorsal fins of my new friends wanting me to come back and play some more.
When the horn sounded to call us back to the boat, I was only ready because my hands - the only exposed part of my body besides my face - were bright red and slightly painful from the cold water.
With everyone back onboard, we had a chance to take pictures of our new friends, who stayed around the boat as long as we were there. Unfortunately, the very rough seas made a lot of people seasick. By a lot of people, I mean the entire boat except for maybe two people. Not sure of the exact number because I had my head down.
I don’t usually get seasick, so I wondered whether the nausea came from a combo of swallowing sea water through my snorkel and the rocking boat.
In any case, our guide was an angel, getting people blankets, bailing everyone’s barf buckets and serving hot cocoa and ginger cookies to those who could stomach them. In between all of this, she answered people’s questions about the dolphins and stayed totally cheerful. Very impressive.
Back onshore, we took hot showers and everyone started to feel a lot better.
We pulled into Christchurch around lunchtime, and took a brief look through the Canterbury Museum. Like the Te Papa in Wellington, it was totally free. We had very little time to look around, so I only saw a few exhibits. One of these was a restored historic street that reminded me of Dickens Village in Philadelphia. There, I found a fake horse that was marked: “For children 13 and under.” I hesitated until Sarah pointed out that there are a lot of 13 year-olds out there who probably weight more than I do, so I climbed on up and pretended I was back on the horse farm in Greece.
Another cool room looked like a Tudor dining hall, with a dark beam ceiling, hanging chandeleir and white walls. Inside was antique furniture and furnishings.
Beyond that room, there was an exhibit on the army.
Beyond the army room was - I admit it - our target… the bathrooms.
We only had about an hour and a half in Christchurch before we hit the road again. Later in the day, we drove on the longest straight road in NZ, which stretches 22 km without a single curve.
Dinner was a delicious barbeque, with steak, lamb chops and venison sausage.
The night was horribly windy. For hours, the tent shook and the fly sheet snapped like a sail. I woke up repeatedly for two hours, then finally put earplugs in and slept alright.