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    Sunday, 21 March 2010

    Whale watching in Kaikoura

    Tram, Christchurh [Enlarge]

    We were on the homeward stretch - in terms of our South Island visit anyway. On our way back up towards the ferry in Picton, we had a few stops to make. After Lake Tekapo, the first of these stops was Christchurch.

    After a pretty drive through Mackenzie Country and then through central Canterbury during which we saw rivers, mountains and farmlands, we finally arrived on the outskirts of Christchurch. Planning to stay two nights in the South Island’s largest city, we navigated our way to the main and most central “motel street”, where we drove into the first motel we saw – which turned out to be perfectly acceptable!

    Lonely Planet actually had not been that kind about Christchurch, and seemed to imply that the people there were maybe slightly unwelcoming. We didn’t really find that though, we were actually quite surprised at the multiculturalism that was present in the city centre, and we enjoyed having a good wander around, looking at the architecture, the river and the pretty gardens around the fringe of the city. Cathedral Square was a real highlight, with the cathedral as a backdrop to an interesting location where people gather in the heart of the city.

    Punting on River Avon, Christchurch [Enlarge]

    The river fringes central Christchurch, and we enjoyed a walk along that and then into the botanical gardens. The gardens were very pretty to walk through, full of beautiful trees and interesting sculptures. We had a good walk through them, and then enjoyed a couple of art centres. One of these was placed in an old school building, and carefully laid out with different wings featuring different types of crafts. It was good to wander around and look at what was on offer. Personally, I liked the fudge shop.

    After a couple of days in Christchurch, we set off up the coast to Kaikoura. This was a pretty drive, largely along the coast up a relatively narrow State Highway 1. As far as journey times go this one was pretty short, and we were in Kaikoura just after lunch. We had some significant trouble finding accommodation for the two nights we were planning to stay, but after some searching we did eventually settle on an overpriced motel along the seafront. It did seem that Kaikoura was heavily touristed, and we suffered in our searches for decent accommodation. Still, we did have good views of the coast and the mountains which was a bonus.

    Kaikoura Beach,New Zealand [Enlarge]

    Kaikoura township was dull compared to some places we’d been, but we were there for the same reason as everyone else – whales. The first thing we did after sorting out our accommodation was to book a whale watching tour. We were reasonably lucky and managed to get on a 9.30am tour for the following day.

    We turned up at the designated time, and after faffing about for half an hour, then watching a safety video, and finally boarding a bus to be driven to the boat on the other side of the peninsula, we were on the boat! Our troubles were not over though – the water was very choppy. We both started feeling seasick very quickly. There was some interesting commentary being done by one of the tour guides and on the screen behind him, but I couldn’t focus on that – I felt so ill! We saw a few albatross’, and finally got the word that a whale had surfaced. We sped off across the water towards the whale. It turned out to be a Sperm Whale, and the poor thing seemed quite unfazed by the madness going on about it – two boatloads of tourists circling it, plus two planes and a helicopter circling overhead. It was amazing to see, but the best bit was when it dove after about five minutes – with the classic whale-tail-in-the-air scenario going on. Mahmoud was gutted, as just as the whale did it’s dive, the battery on his camera ran out!

    Video of the Sperm Whale as it dives:

    Dusky Dolphin, Kaikoura [Enlarge]

    All was not lost though, and feeling more seasick than ever we whizzed off across the bay towards land, where we encountered an enormous pod of dolphins – about 500 in total our guide reckoned. They were amazing to watch, scooting along next to the boat, jumping out of the water and playing all around us. There was just so much to see – I took quite a lot of video, and Mahmoud was able to get a good variety of shots of them having fun. No one wanted to leave, but eventually we went back into the cabin and started off back to Kaikoura. The seasickness was worse than ever on the way back, and the waves were really big. I think everyone was pretty relieved to be back on dry land at the end of the trip!

    Video of the enormous pod of Dusky Dolphins:

    Kaikoura, New Zeland [Enlarge]

    After our trip we felt ill for a few hours and had to have a lie down. Once we’d recovered we did a bit of exploring on the Kaikoura peninsula. At the end of the peninsula there was a seal colony which was interesting to see. By this point we’d seen quite a few seals, but at this one we nearly tripped over a couple of seals which were having a sleep. Further back down the peninsula we saw some interesting geographical and historical sites – there was plenty to see!

    Chocolate Cake, Kaikoura [Enlarge]

    That evening, as it was Mahmoud’s birthday, we went out for a meal at a local Thai restaurant. Mahmoud had a half crayfish – a must-have in Kaikoura as they’re caught locally. Unfortunately they’re also priced really highly – the half crayfish cost nearly $45! Fortunately, it was tasty.

    Picton, New Zealand [Enlarge]

    The following day we were off and out of Kaikoura (and away from the bad weather). We were headed back to familiar pastures – Picton. The drive was once again, stunning. We drove first along the coast (and past more seals), and then inland, through Blenheim and wine country, and then on to Picton. We’d come full circle!

    Smart people had booked their accommodation prior to arriving in Picton as it gets pretty busy there with the ferry to Wellington picking up and dropping off people all the time, but we hadn’t booked anything when we arrived. As such, we had to drive around a bit, but eventually settled on a motel just out of town. It ended up being quite a picturesque and quiet spot, so it worked out well. We took a quick drive up the coast too – there were some brilliant views of Marlborough Sounds up some of the back roads in the area.

    Marlborough Sound [Enlarge]

    And so the following day we left the South Island. We were really lucky with the ferry crossing this time around, as the weather was much better – in fact it was swelteringly hot and piercingly sunny. We sat up on top of the ship for most of the journey. It was a much better boat than the last one we’d taken, and with the good weather the views of Marlborough Sound were spectacular. It was a very rocky crossing though, and we found that we had to sit up on top of the boat to prevent seasickness. It was well worth it though, and as we came into Wellington Harbour the wind really picked up and the temperature dropped a bit. We drove off the ferry – being back in Wellington was like being back in old territory! We were sorry to have left the scenic South Island – but we were able to relax that night, satisfied with the knowledge that our South Island trip had been among some of the best time of our 9 month trip so far.


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