Australia (Sydney, Tasmania) and New Zealand - 2003/2004

New Zealand - South Island

The rest of the day more than made up for the experience in Christchurch.

I drove to Kaikoura in the afternoon to go whale watching the next day. When I arrived, I went to the whale watching center to make sure that there weren't any problems with the reservation for the helicopter whale watching the following day. No problem there. I also wanted to go one a whale watching boat, so I tried to buy a ticket for the following afternoon. At the counter they asked: "Why go tomorrow? It's a perfect day for whale watching today and there's room on the next tour." Which was a good point. The weather was fine, it wasn't very windy and the ocean looked calm, so I went for that option.

Oddly, the ships don't wait in the water, but are boarded on land on a trailer and are only put into water after everyone is on board (and these aren't small ships). Another thing that irritated me at first was that they kept stressing that you had to remain seated and couldn't go to the outside while the boat was moving, which was unusual. On previous whale watching tours this was never an issue and the view from inside the ship was quite limited, since seats were seated in wide rows and the aisles were between them and the windows, so someone sitting in the middle of a row couldn't see much. There were only a couple of places in the front that were next to the windows. They also asked the passengers whether they suffered from seasickness and boarded accordingly. Those who might get sick were advised to stay in the back rows. The seats in the front were all empty and since I wanted to see something of the outside and I usually don't get seasick and the ocean was calm, I sat there. Nobody else did. I soon found out that these rules, which I found a bit annoying at first, were quite reasonable.

The whale watching boats are faster than they look, so instead of calmly cruising, they rush over the ocean at 25 knots and more and even on a calm looking sea, they pitch quite a bit up and down. Sitting in front, I got thrown up from my seat a few times and in effect was tougher on the backside than the 'Mack Attack' back in the Bay of Islands. But not really sitting on the place, but being more in a sort of squatting position, trying to go with the flow, it was fun. I'm not quite sure whether they normally go like this. Sitting there alone it was ok, but if four people sit in the front seats, there'll probably be bruises. But since there were enough empty seats in the normal rows, I could have gone there if I wouldn't have liked it in front, so there was no problem with going a bit rougher than (I hope) usually.

And the 'remain seated, don't go outside' also wasn't any problem at all. Once we were close to a whale, the ship stopped, the doors were opened and we could watch from the outside. The restrictions were only for the quick rushes to the right places.

I hadn't seen sperm whales on whale watching tours before and I didn't know that their behaviour makes them a whale watchers dream. Other whales tend to stay in motion and come up only for short moments, so you have to follow them and try to anticipate where they might come up. And then you get a quick glimpse and try to get a picture before they are gone again. Sperm whales, on the other hand, just lie there. After a deep dive, they come up and float at the surface for a couple of minutes to catch their breath. So if the crew spots a whale, they can rush to the whale, let everyone go outside and the whale will, most likely, still be there. And after a while, the whale will just dip under the surface for a moment, which is the sign that it will deep dive again, so everyone has an advance warning that the whale will go down now and it's time for the usual 'whale fin sticking out of the water' picture.

After that, the whale will be down for quite some time (usually for longer than the rest of the tour will last), so it's no use hanging around, but it's time to go and find the next one.

We managed to spot three sperm whales during the whale watching trip and got very good views of all of them. It was an incredible experience.

Sperm whale watching in Kaikoura Sperm whale watching in Kaikoura Sperm whale watching in Kaikoura Sperm whale watching in Kaikoura Sperm whale watching in Kaikoura

On the way back, we had another stop in shallower waters amidst a group of dusky dolphins. They were very active and quick and it was fun watching them race around the ship and jump out of the water.

Dusky Dolphins, Kaikoura Dusky Dolphins, Kaikoura Dusky Dolphins, Kaikoura Dusky Dolphins, Kaikoura

Next morning, the weather still was perfect. No cloud in sight and no wind, so it was going to be a very smooth helicopter flight. This was the last major activity for this vacation and it was going to be great. I even remembered dressing all in black (even though a long sleeved black shirt was a bit warm that day) to avoid reflections when taking photos from the helicopter. The time for whale watching is a bit shorter on the helicopter than on the boat, but you got a better view from up there and a better chance at spotting the whales. And you can get closer to them more quickly.

After a couple of minutes we get lucky and spotted a group of three sperm whales swimming together. We circled them for quite a while. After some time one of the whales turned away and dived down. The other ones remained on the surface a bit longer before diving down as well. Watching whales from above is quite different from watching them from sea level. From sea level, you only see those bits that are sticking out of the water (except for some dolphins very close to the boat, as is evident from the first of the dolphin pictures above), while, in the clear waters around Kaikoura, you can see the whole whale (or at least the upper part of it). And sperm whales are large animals, so it's a great sight. And a group of three, far away from any ships was especially amazing. After the three whales had gone down, we spotted another one, but that one was close to two whale watching ships and also to a whale watching plane, which were there first, so we had to keep high above to avoid any risk of colliding with the plane.

Helicopter whale watching, Kaikoura Helicopter whale watching, Kaikoura Helicopter whale watching, Kaikoura Helicopter whale watching, Kaikoura

On the way back to the whale watching center, we passed over a couple of rocks with fur seals relaxing in the sun.

Helicopter fur seal watching, Kaikoura Helicopter fur seal watching, Kaikoura Helicopter fur seal watching, Kaikoura

To a certain extend, the whale watching flight was the final highlight and marked the end of my vacation.

It wasn't quite the end of activities. After landing I still had a couple of pictures left, so I went to the seal colony I had seen during the flight and took some more pictures.

Fur seal, Kaikoura Fur seal, Kaikoura Fur seal, Kaikoura Fur seal, Kaikoura Fur seal, Kaikoura

But after doing that the vacation just felt over. I just drove back to my motel and even though it still was early afternoon, I felt drained and tired. It was the longest, farthest vacation with the most activities I ever did and it was over. The only thing that remained was the long way home.

I wrote a couple of final postcards and just wanted to bring them to the letterbox, when I noticed that the tips of the mountains were bright red. So I ran to the car and drove over to the other side of the peninsula, where there was a better view towards the sunset. So the day closed with one of the most amazing fiery sunsets I've ever seen.

Kaikoura sunset Kaikoura sunset

And that's the end of it. The next day I drove back to Christchurch (taking the scenic route), and the day after that I flew home, after having driven 6531 km in Tasmania and New Zealand, after having sailed in a racing yacht, rolled down a hill in an inflated rubber ball, floated through a glow worm cavern, hydro-sledged down rapids, walked on a glacier and crawled through ice caves, driven a jet boat, flown (but not landed on ice) in a ski plane, fed a giraffe, sighted a snake, petted a koala, sailed a catamaran, sand-boarded down a dune, jet skied, welcomed the New Year at a rock concert, luged down a hill, flying-foxed across a gorge, watched whales from sea level and from high above and so much more.

To quote the liner notes from a CD: Very occasionally, if you really pay attention, life doesn't suck.


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