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Sunday, 17 July 2011

Kaikoura and the dolphins 9th – 11th July 2011

Mel and I both finished work on the same day, the same time and bizarrely enough at the same place; such were the circumstances of that rainy Saturday afternoon. I had arranged an S.S.A event that was scheduled to be held on the steps of the Nelson Cathedral, but the rain was so heavy that the surrealist picnic had to be moved to Fashion Island Mall (home to Mel’s work at Lush) where some 30 performers all descended and created a living installation, freezing in character for 3 minutes, much to the amazement of bystanders.

As the performers drifted away into the ever greying skies, Mel and her colleagues at Lush took pity on me and gave me some fruit tea in the tiny staff room behind the counter. They even had the time to chat with me during their very busy day.

Mel and I eventually wandered off with our borrowed bikes (our others were still getting repaired in Auckland) in order to pick up a hire car which we were going to drive down to Kaikoura so that we could enjoy some of the wildlife down there before our bikes were retuned and we could get going for real, so to speak. Rent-a-Dent gave us a lovely little Nissan Sunny, which was a good car for the money and we set off the following morning, having enjoyed a lovely dinner that night with Sue and John and the now infamous cat ‘Puss’.

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The weather was improving all the time as we drove across country, indeed back along the road we had cycled on our way into Nelson all those months ago, both of us remarking how much of the route we remembered; places we ate and places we had camped. We reached the east coast at around lunchtime and we were looking for somewhere to have lunch when I first spotted a large, brown object on the rocks next to the breaking waves of the Pacific Ocean. It appeared to be moving a little like a seal. I was most impressed when I realised that it was in fact a seal and I congratulated myself for having spotted it, after all they must surely be a very rare, mustn’t they? This was not the case; the east coast has huge numbers of seals and this proved to be the first of dozens we came into contact with during the course of the 24 hours.

We pulled up at a picnic area and were lucky enough to have a close encounter with a very young pup, a great photo opportunity and a chance to enjoy the novelty of watching a seal in the wild whilst enjoying a hummus and crisp sandwich. A little further along and it was cameras at the ready again when we came across many large adults enjoying the sun and posing for all the tourists who had pulled over to get a batter glimpse of them.

We arrived into Kaikoura a short time later and having decided to drive through the centre of the sprawling metropolis (!), found ourselves parked by yet more seals, literally next to us in the car-park at the base of a coastal tramping walk. We decided to make the most of the weather and have a short stroll up onto the cliffs where we were followed by an incredible number of young cows, who were collectively certain that we were either their parents or that we were going to provide them with food.

From on top of the cliffs we could see more seals, to the east and even a humpback whale out in the deep blue water. To the west, were snow capped mountains, some of the most impressive I have seen with my own eyes and without the aid of a TV screen.

We checked into the YHA just as the sun was going down and we were treated to another of the countless brilliant sunsets, highlighting the magnificent snow capped peaks which changed colour from white to pink to black against the fading light of the evening sky. We were enjoying a free night’s accommodation, having re-joined YHA that day back home in Nelson. We received 25% off our new membership (as we’re cyclists – low carbon you see), 1 free night, $10 off vouchers and 30 minutes free internet. We were even lucky enough to not have to share the dorm with anyone else. Gotta love low season!

Next morning, we arrived at the ‘Encounter’ centre and the next instalment of our honeymoon adventure. Mel had always wanted to swim with dolphins and go whale watching, and I had always wanted to see Albatross in the wild and we incredibly managed to do all three in one morning. I decided not to pay the extra $80 to swim with the dolphins; Mel would have you believe that this was due to me not having to balls to jump into the sea with up to 2,000 meters of water beneath me. However, this is not the case; I just wanted to make the most of seeing Mel enjoy a dream come true whilst we still had the means to document it with our video camera which we would send home in the post before we left Nelson properly the following week. Anyway, whichever person you choose to believe, the day moved forward well, Mel was fitted for a midwinter wet-suit and I waited patiently with the cameras, towels and dry clothes that would be needed after her swim. There were 9 passengers and 2 crew on the boat. Mel was 1 of 6 who were braving the water that day.

After a briefing and a short bus ride to the dock, we were out on the sun drenched ocean and before long Mel was living the dream and swimming with the dusky dolphins. The tour guide had encouraged all of the passengers to make lots of noise when they entered the water, suggesting that this would encourage the dolphins with their inquisitive nature to come and investigate these rather oddly behaved creatures that had just jumped in to swim with them in their pod. Mel was not shy in coming forward with her singing. She sang her heart out from the second she entered the water till she was eventually too cold and out of breath to go on any further. I caught it all on camera of course. It seemed to do the trick mind you, with no fewer than 800 dolphins coming to the party, and seals, all kinds of birds and sperm whales. This all played out in front of the breathtaking coastline of the Kaikoura and the surrounding bays. It was well worth spending some of the last remaining wedding money we had from our friends on. It made us both so happy.

We had every intention of freedom camping that night in a basic DOC camp on our way back to Nelson, but unfortunately the weather didn’t allow for this. The campsite was 2 feet under snow. We went to the next one – it was flooded! We were so put off by the heavy wind, snow and rain on our journey back towards Nelson that we aborted that particular mission and threw ourselves at the mercy of Ngaire and Tom, begging them to take us in one last time. Our great friends did for us once again what they had done when we first arrived in Nelson and gave us another sample of the never-ending hospitality. Spending more time with them was like going home to visit family. We ended up spending 3 nights there instead of the 1 we had planned to, not just because of the weather, but also due to our bikes and equipment arriving late back from Auckland. Words escape me when I try to sum up how brilliant some people in Nelson can be.

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