From Page 1 dolphins as they explode from the water, turn somersaults, leap four abreast from the water and ride our bow wave.
We’ve seen a video back at Dolphin Encounter reception, so we know what to expect, but it’s a pale shadow of the real thing. According to our on-board naturalist, there are about 500 dolphins in this single pod.
Despite the 12C water temperature, my daughter Isabelle has to be restrained from leaping in before the boat has stopped. Visibility in the water is no more than a few metres and the dolphins materialise suddenly from below and behind, give us the once-over from little more than an arm’s length away, then are gone. We discover you can prolong the encounter if you make interesting noises, and so from our snorkel tubes comes a weird chorus of honks, chirps and moans.
Within 10 minutes the first session is over. The boat sounds its horn and we clamber back on board and set off to intercept the dolphins again. Four more times we repeat the process. It’s a class act, from Dolphin Encounter as well as the dolphins.
When we peel off our wetsuits, there’s a warm water hose-down, and on the way back to the dock we pass a fur seal whipping a large fish from side to side to break it up and, hovering above, an albatross, gulls and an Australian gannet competing for the crumbs.
The next morning, we are booked for an excursion with Maori Tours Kaikoura. The rich marine resources of the coast supported a population of several hundred Ngai Tahu, as the local tribe is known. During the past 15 years, the Ngai Tahu people have used a land claims settlement from the NZ Government to establish the Ngai Tahu Holdings Group, a multi-faceted operation that returned a net surplus of more than $NZ80 million ($72.6 million) during the 2006-07 financial year.
Maurice Manawatu and Alisha Thomas, his young relative, pick us up in a van from the parking lot of the local tourist information centre. Manawatu can trace his Ngai Tahu ancestry back 22 generations, a lineage that takes him back when his ancestors arrived in NZ.
We spiral high above Kaikoura to visit the remains of a pa, a Maori fortified hilltop, one of several in the area. Thomas must sing a karanga, a Maori women’s song of introduction, before we can enter the pa. We seal the introduction with a hangi, the pressing of noses, and we are given Maori names. Maori is an oral culture and oratorical skill places you several rungs up the status ladder.
Taking turns, we introduce ourselves by describing the geography of our birthplace and our family, the linchpins that give us identity in the Maori world.
We stroll through a forest and learn about the kawakawa, source of a medicinal tea; the totara, the canoe tree; and the ponga, the silver tree fern. Under Thomas’s tutelage, we weave flax, the Maori’s multi-purpose fabric and construction material. We also sing. Maori have wonderful voices that make them naturals for the church choir. In such a choir in my youth, I was told just to keep quiet and move my lips. The Maori song that Manawatu teaches us may be mangled, but we sing it with feeling.
It is time to head south; a little more than an hour from Kaikoura and we are among the vineyards of the Waipara winegrowing district. Separated from the ocean by the Teviotdale Hills, the Y-shaped Waipara Valley turns out exceptional pinot noir and riesling. There are those who say that Waipara is where the action is in the world of NZ pinot noir, and we are just in time to stop at Pegasus Bay and load up with bottles.
Good day?’’ asks the cellarman, and I amtempted to make a crack about wine, women and song, but even I know better than that. Michael Gebicki was a guest of Alpine Pacific Tourism.
Three of the South Island’s most popular recreational destinations, Hanmer Springs, the Waipara Valley wine region and Kaikoura, are linked by the Alpine Pacific Triangle touring route, which is well signposted and can be combined easily with other destinations on a self-drive itinerary. The route covers 370km and starts, at its southern end, a 45-minute drive from Christchurch and at its northern end from Kaikoura. More: www.alpinepacifictourism.co.nz. For accommodation on the route: in Hanmer Springs, the best in town is the spanking-new Braemar Lodge & Spa; www.selecthotels.com.au. In Kaikoura, Hapuku Lodge is a stylish country retreat located on a deer and olive farm to the north of town; www.hapukulodge.com/kaikoura. Surrounded by vineyards in the Waipara wine district, the Old Glenmark Vicarage has opulent accommodation in full-blown Victorian style in the homestead or rustic, selfcontained lodgings in a converted barn; www.glenmarkvicarage.co.nz. www.blackhills.co.nz www.hanmersprings.co.nz www.rovingadventures.com www.dolphin.co.nz www.maoritours.co.nz www.pegasusbay.com www.newzealand.com