Dophins, Whales, and Seals!

Today we were headed all the way up to Nelson, which is at the uppermost end of the South Island, but first we were stopping at Kaikoura, which is a little peninsula on the east coast of the south island renowned for sea-life.  We had several choices for activities for the afternoon:  whale watching, swimming with dolphins, swimming with seals (!!), or heli-tours, ect.  My new buddy Alex and I debated back and forth on what we wanted to do, and somehow the majesty of seeing whales won out, so we both elected to go whale watching (with I think one or two others from our group).  We decided this the day prior to arriving of course (so bookings can be done ahead of time, ect), while most of the rest of the group had decided to go swimming with dolphins. 

After a quick trip through some pretty mountains, we reached the coast and were all rejoicing at the beautiful views.  Suddenly several folks on the right of the bus, including Craig the driver, noticed dolphins off the coast, so we pulled off to check them out.  It was INSANE.  There were sooo many dolphins and they were absolutely jumping out of the water like, I don't know, grasshoppers.  There was a nice ridge of rocks out into the water, so many of us started following Craig, picking our way across jagged rocks, trying not to fall into the knee-deep water, ect.  The trek across was hilarious, just because we were trying to hurry to get as close as possible to the dolphin pod, but also trying not to drench ourselves.  Once we got up to the ridge, man- it was just amazing.  There was a boat or two out there with I think the morning's excursion of dolphin swimmers, and I immediately started regretting my whale watching choice.  That said, there were just SO MANY dolphins jumping around, that it almost seemed like it would be nerve wracking to be out in the water with them.  I have a few far-off photos, but here are the best - but hopefully you can see them out of the water.

Eventually, we had to get moving, so with slightly damp pants & feet, we boarded the bus & headed into the charming little town to grab lunch & set off for our excursions.  I honestly wish we could've spent the night, because it did seem like a cute little place.  After a quick sandwich in a nice park (fighting off the sea gulls), we headed over to the dock for our fabulous whale excursion.  Now, my mom has always been quite vocal about her experiences whale watching - she thinks it's possibly the most boring thing ever.  I kept thinking she was just in a bad spot - after all, there were extraordinary geographic formations here that allow you to see pilot whales in sight of land - something that is only possible in like 3 places in the world.  One of those other places?  Monterey, CA - about 1 hour from SF.  Ooops.  Another reason why I should've done the dolphins.  BUT - I still was optimistic as we headed out, because it really was a beautiful spot and gorgeous weather. 

As we sped out they spoke to us a bit about the Maori relationship with whales, and explained how the day would work.  There were definitely a few whales in the area, so it was just a matter of tracking them down, and waiting for them to surface.  They dive for about 45-minutes, then spend about 10 minutes up at the surface re-oxygenating their blood, then they dive again, and we get the pretty tail shot.  Well, we got really lucky, because we not only found one pilot whale, but we found two, and found them just as they surfaced, one right after the other.  The timing worked that we got to see them both twice - and track them for the 2nd surfacing.  It was actually really cool to see them - I mean, yes, it does look a bit like a log floating in the ocean, but you could just sense the power and majesty of such a huge animal, even if you could only see a fraction of it.  Here are a few pics (I took a bazillion, but they all look almost the same):

So - successful outing, but for sure on the quieter side.  Considering that two of our group took a little nap on board during the wait between sightings, you can imagine just how "quiet" that half hour or so was.  I would say peaceful, maybe rather than boring.  I think the problem comes from the fact that the guides are working so hard in that time to keep track of where they are so that we see them surface, that it's not like they can entertain us at all, and we have to be quiet so they can listen in the water, so well, there's just not much to do besides wait.  Like I said, it was a gorgeous day, and sitting out on a boat is never really a trial (provided you don't get sea-sick). 
One the way back into port, we happened across an albatross baiting boat, so we got to see some different kind of birds, and it was crazy how much bigger the albatross was than the regular gulls & such.  HUGE, and beautiful, and I don't even like birds:

Once we got ashore, we had a short wait for the dolphin swimmers to return, and again- it was really just a lovely place:

Once all back on the bus, stories were exchanged, and everyone who did the dolphins was just, well, giddy.  They had a great time and said the dolphins were super interactive & close, but were duly impressed with our whale photos, and at least we got to stay warm and dry.  Before we headed around to our final destination, we had another road-side coast stop to check out a colony of seals.  It was a bit in shadow, so I don't have many pictures, but it was SO CUTE!  There were tons of babies frolicking around and trying not to get washed away by waves, and there even were some holes in the rock that were constantly filled with water which the seals were using as little Jacuzzis it seemed.  It was mesmerizing, and we could've sat and watched them all for hours, but we still had a bit of drive before arriving in Nelson in time to get some dinner.  Here's the best shot I have of those seals, but video would've been better:
On that last drive up to Nelson, they actually played a movie for us - as it started I called it:  Whale Rider.  It was actually better watching it now than when I first saw it, because it does give you some more insight into Maori culture, and especially after our ride with Maori guides to watch the whales I just really appreciated it.  Plus, that little Keisha whats-her-name just kills me with her little speech for the disgruntled grandpa/chief who's not even AT her school play b/c of the whale beaching.  So - good movie if you haven't seen it!

Up next:  my day in Paradise, aka:  Abel Tasman National Park.