After the previous day’s hard travelling. we woke up ready to begin the actual holiday. Once again we couldn’t hang around as we had a deadline to meet, this time in Kaikoura, a town about 150km south of Picton on the East Coast. We had a much needed shower, a quick breakfast and set off down the coast road. The weather was not great– dark, cloudy skies– but the scenery made up for it. The coast road was rugged, rocky and spectacular!
Our appointment in Kaikoura was another pelagic trip. Kaikoura’s main unique feature is underwater: a deep trench only a kilometer or two offshore that attracts tons of marine life unusually close to the land. This life ranges from the resident sperm whales to the small acrobatic dusky dolphins to a range of seabirds. In addition, a large colony of New Zealand fur seals live on the rocks to the north of the town. Kaikoura has tours catering for each type of marine life, but we decided to go with the seabirds, thinking that whales and dolphins would be hard to miss on any boat excursion, but only a specialized tour would point out the different seabird species.
Unfortunately for me, the weather had turned windy and rainy. We arrived in Kaikoura with time only to check into the hostel and go to the tour centre, where they described the seas as “lumpy” that day. Remembering my last experience with “lumpy” seas, I got some ginger pills to hopefully ward off any seasickness (the tour centre couldn’t sell anything stronger). We loaded into the van and drove to the docks, which were on the other side of the narrow peninsula that Kaikoura is on. The boat turned out to be even smaller than the one on the Hauraki Gulf pelagic, with benches inside and outside. We huddled together as the boat set off into the sea. The bumps were not as bad as the previous pelagic, but one woman was terrified and another man was clearly trying to hold in his lunch. I was feeling a little queasy but not nearly as bad as the last time– maybe the ginger was helping.
Since the trench is so close to shore, we didn’t have to go far before we stopped and the skipper threw the bag of chum into the water. Instantly a group of giant petrels appeared and began chowing down. The skipper described them as “vultures of the sea” as the petrels snapped at any other birds that dared to come close. Smaller Cape petrels and some uncommon Westland petrels arrived, followed by the main attraction: albatrosses. Though the albatrosses were bigger than the giant petrels, they hung back from the food.
It was fun for me to watch the seabirds without feeling like death, but the boat was continuing to rock and I could feel the queasiness intensifying. The other seasick guy seemed to be feeling the same way and, sensitive to this issue, the skipper turned the boat around early and we headed back to shore. It seems that whereas the privately-chartered tour in Hauraki Gulf proceeded until it became actually dangerous, this more commercial tour didn’t want anyone to have a bad, seasick experience.
We got back to shore with no one losing their lunch and drove back to the tour centre, where we got an incredibly fair (considering we’d seen many birds) partial refund since the tour had been cut short. The light drizzle had upgraded to rain by this point, so we walked back to the hostel to warm up.
After some needed coffee and a hot shower, we headed back into the rain to check out the seal colony. We’d seen some seals from the road while driving in, but because we were on a schedule we didn’t stop. Now, we cruised back up towards the seal-covered rocks. Nearby, there was a trail leading to a freshwater pool where seal pups were known to swim, but a sign at the hostel warned that the track was closed since seals were now giving birth up there. We had to content ourselves with parking at a spot along the coast and observing the seals on the rocks.
At the spot we chose, several seals were flopped on the beach about 20 meters away from the car, with more on the rocks around. They seemed fairly subdued by all the rain, but we had a good time watching them, even spotting some pups!
The rain was showing no signs of letting up, so we got back in the car to head back to town. On the way, we spotted a crayfish stand and decided to stop and spent our tour refund money on a nice cooked crayfish. Kaikoura is named after these creatures: a Maori guy came to this area, tired and hungry, and found an abundance of crayfish, thus naming it “Kai” (food) “Koura” (crayfish).
The one we ate certainly was delicious!
After our crayfish, we drove back to town to hang out in the hostel and get a proper dinner. The local pub had a nice pizza and pint deal, and later we had a good time in the hostel’s main lounge area with the other travelers. The day started damp and queasy, but ended well!