Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Travel Blog: New Zealand

Kaikoura, New Zealand

This is yet another place that photographs and words can do no justice to. Imagine a seaside town - small and picturesque, quaint and sunny.  But, lining the backdrop in the distance are stunning, snow-capped mountains. Here I had another 'wow' moment.

As soon as we'd arrived and dropped our backpacks, we set off on a 4 and a half hour trek through the hills, which included stopping at a wild seal colony.  This town boasts more marine life than probably most places in the world, including dolphins and whales.  That was the main reason we stopped off here, to swim with dolphins.  

However, when we turned up at the date and time I'd booked months ago, the weather conditions were really bad. The tour could be cancelled at any point, as strong winds were causing a very heavy sea, meaning that if we found the dolphins we may not be allowed into the water to swim with them.
We were leaving the next day.  Our only option was to rearrange and book onto the first tour of the next day - at 5.30am.

So the following day was VERY busy.  Getting up at 4am, we only just made it in time but it was SO worth it.  It was such a beautiful morning, without one tiny cloud in the sky.  Once I'd wetsuited up for the first time in my life, (with hood+snorkel+flippers, the lot) I looked awesome and was ready to find some dusky dolphins.  We found a pod of around 100, and most people on the boat got right in the water.

The experience is hard to recount, because it was the best but worst feeling.  Obviously, if you know anyone who has swam with dolphins they will tell you it was amazing, the best day of their life etc.  But that was almost definitely all the time in tropical waters, with trained dolphins in captivity.  So how many of those people you know who have done it conventionally, have swum with wild dolphins in the open ocean??  Because this is quite a different experience.  As they are wild, we cannot touch them and the boat does not entice them with bait or in any other way - they just look for the pods.  Have I mentioned previously how COLD it is in NZ?  Well this is apparently the start of their Summer, and I don't know if it's because I arrived from a total opposite climate but it feels like Winter.  When I submerged into that early morning Pacific Ocean, it was so cold I nearly had a panic attack.  I couldn't breathe! And then I had a slight snorkel incident, where I swallowed my own body weight in seawater, and this was all before I'd seen any dolphins! My body was desperate to get back on the boat, but my mind knew I couldn't ruin this once in a lifetime opportunity.  I stayed in the water for about half an hour, and when the dolphins came close I could forget about the water temperature.  Some of the them kept eye contact and circled me, which was really cute.  They are one of the most acrobatic of the species, and they happily jumped out of the water, even doing flips like they were showing off.  But when I got back on the boat I was quite happy to take off my wetsuit and just watch them from there!

Once we were safely back on land, we proceeded on a 2 and a half hour bus journey up to Picton, where you can travel to the North Island.  We had planned to get the ferry, which takes 3.5 hours, but was told by a local that flying only takes 25 minutes.  It was also a scenic flight, in a small charter plane over the Marlborough Sounds.  So we opted for the second, faster option, which I thought would be quite exciting. Wrong!! It was terrifying.  The plane was absolutely miniscule, had maximum 10 seats and only one pilot, who kept repeating "Make sure your seatbelt is nice and tight!"
It was a rocky flight, you could feel every gust of wind and it is well known that Wellington, our destination, is referred to as Windy Wellington.  The views of course were spectacular, but I never want to get on a plane like that again!

So, a rather eventful day...swimming with wild dolphins, crossing the Cook Straight in a charter plane, sleeping in our first dorm room with some very weird people...the fun continues!