March 8, 2012 by Jeramie

Kaikoura. The clouds were persistent, but beyond, with some imagination, you could see the makings of a magical sea and landscape. We planned to be in town a couple of days, but given the weather, and getting to town so early, we decided to get on a whale watching tour that day, and to head just south of town for an early morning hike requiring low-tide. We reserved our spot on the last tour of the day, and headed back to town for lunch, hoping we’d made the right decision. Three hours later, the sun was piercing through the clouds, and the emerald waters looked as inviting as ever. We waited impatiently through the drab safety talks, eager to get onboard. Finally, we were on our way sometime after 4pm. On the way out we gazed at the hill and mountain sides along the coast wishing the clouds would push back just that little bit higher. The suggestion of the magnificence beyond was painful. Further out the scenery emptied out, save the seabirds passing by, sometimes within feet of our rushing boat. I wondered what the possibilities were out here… and before I could decide… I saw one! A Wandering Albatross, the largest (by wingspan) bird of flight on the planet. Although definitely not the goal of this excursion, it was personally super exciting to see. As kids my brother and I drooled over stacks of Zoo Books and animal encyclopedias about various species, as only a couple of complete nerds could do. Imagining, and then architecting in the form of crude drawings, massive arboretums and enclosures, dreams homes in which to live side by side with all the creatures we read about. I guarantee you that my brother at this very moment could recite to you the average and record wingspans of a Wandering Albatross. (For anyone interested, our guide on the tour claimed the average is somewhere around or beyond 3.5 meters).

The big kahuna on this trip though, Kaikoura’s pride and joy, is the Sperm Whale. The fourth largest whale on the planet, and the largest tooth whale in existence. It seems pretty lame when you hear the guide say “We HOPE to see ONE whale.” But the fact is, that you’re out on the water for 2.5 hours at most, including the trip out to deep water, and a Sperm Whale dives for over 45 minutes before returning to the surface. Luckily, we had Zoe aboard who among our 30 or more passengers, and all the crew members, was the first to spot a whale! They are beautiful, and there’s something astoundingly humbling about sitting alongside an animal the same size as the vehicle carrying you and 40 other individuals. Their limited time at the surface (only 5-10 minutes) is a staunch reminder of how different a world we live in. Just as you become aware of their presence, they’re gone again, and you are snapped into the reality that they can’t be followed.

We headed off to another area, attempting to find a second whale. Before that happened (it did happen though), our trip was detoured by a pod of Dusky Dolphins who spontaneously began their trademark aerial show as we passed them. I’ve seen several species of dolphins in the wild as well as in captivity. But never in person have I seen a group so animated. Jumping. Spinning. Backflips. One after another they put on an impromptu circus performance, before abruptly subduing themselves to the waters below. Possibly tired, but I felt it more likely that WE let them down as play partners? Something about the interaction seemed to me as if they had begun the show to gain our attention, and ended it, when we failed to retain theirs.

From there we headed straight away to another Sperm Whale that had just surfaced a kilometer away, catching him just in time before heading to a thousand meters or more below once again in search of Giant Squid. It was a beautiful day, amongst some of my favorite creatures on the planet.

As night was falling, driving south along the most beautiful coast we’ve seen thus far, we stopped beside the ocean for a brew. We sat, took photos of the moon, and Zoe commented endlessly about the awful aroma of the ocean differing from home. All of a sudden, she spotted 2 seals not 20 meters from us, resting on the rocks. Then moments later, there was a loud grunt from 3 feet below us toward the water. We had practically been sitting on a massive Fur Seal! Onward we moved, to find a camp spot, which is where we sit now. The moonlit ocean out the window, life doesn’t get much better.

Posted in New Zealand |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *