A Close encounter
Kaikoura is a unique gem, writes Helena Wiseman.
Kaikoura is known as the place “where the mountains meet the sea”, a breathtakingly beautiful place with a mountainous backdrop set back from a rugged coastline where the Pacific Ocean meets the shore. I discovered that there is much more to this place than stunning scenery, and it is definitely worth a closer look.
Kaikoura has a quaint appearance with the look of a coastal village more so than a thriving tourist destination, and it is this relaxed vibe that gives this place an appeal all of its own. Kaikoura is well-known for its diverse array of marine life and without a doubt this alluring fact further influenced my decision to experience this unique destination for myself.
As soon as I arrived and had checked into my accommodation, I decided to take a walk to get a taste of the outdoors. There is no shortage of scenic walks, and each track or trail provides its own unique view of coastline or mountains, much like flicking through a magnificent pictorial book … I set off to walk to the seal colony that is quite an easy walk along the beachfront to the end of the road.
Ambling past the wharf I saw the historic pub, the Pier Hotel, which would have to have the most superb views of the mountains across the bay. I made a mental note to stop in on my way back from the seal colony for a cold beer. Further along the way I passed the Seafood Barbecue, an open air eating place that has a focus on seafood cooked to order. It is incredibly popular with visitors and locals and has a rustic charm all of its own.
Continuing on to the end of the road, I came to the seal colony, a beautiful place with rugged seams of rock, and of course so many New Zealand fur seals, I literally lost count. From this point, the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway commences, winding up and along the edge of the peninsula and ending at South Bay on the southern side of the peninsula. Other walking tracks connect from the southern side back to the northern side of the peninsula making it easy to get back to where you started from.
After my seal experience I strolled back to the Pier to relax and take in the views over a cold beer. I was keen to give some thought to
It was an experience full of exhilaration and pure adrenalin all rolled into one.
finalising my plan for the next day – an encounter with some of the local wildlife!
It was hard to choose from the activities on offer as they all sound exhilarating and unique; from swimming with the dusky dolphins, snorkelling with seals or whale watching either by boat or air. I wanted to participate in them all! It was a big decision but after some deliberation, I chose to swim with the dolphins as I have always dreamt of seeing dolphins in their natural ocean habitat. I was not to be disappointed.
I was given my wetsuit and snorkelling equipment to try on and to make sure that it fitted well. Then on to the safety briefing that shows what to expect on the tour and more importantly, how to respect the dolphins when you are in the water with them; and I was ready to go. I was one of a group of only 16 swimmers, and I learned that this was the maximum number of swimmers on each tour. Other passengers can join the tour to watch the dolphins if they are not keen to get their feet wet!
It was only a short boat ride before a pod of dusky dolphins was located along the coast, and the crew on board advised us to get ready to enter the water. The sheer excitement mixed with a dash of nerves was almost overwhelming as I looked out and saw the dolphins just to the rear of the boat. I had to remember to breathe normally as I slipped into the water and paddled out in the direction of the dolphins.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded by the streamlined shapes of graceful dusky dolphins. I had to adjust to being in the water, and it took me a few seconds to become acclimatised to the wetsuit and the temperature. Then I used my fins to circle around trying to be as graceful as I could, quite a challenge in a buoyant wetsuit I can assure you! I squeaked and squealed with delight through my snorkel and used all my energy to try and keep up with the speed of the duskies who seemed sort of vaguely interested in my antics. The dolphins circled me then spiralled down effortlessly beneath me before rising up to the surface again to breathe. Then they returned as I continued to snorkel around and up and down trying to hold their attention. It was an experience full of exhilaration and pure adrenalin all rolled into one.
I returned to the boat to re-charge and adjust my gear as my mask had become a little loose. The crew on board were marvellous, eager to assist and so enthusiastic and encouraging. At the end of the swim time, we were given an opportunity to capture some photos and videos of the dolphins while listening to a commentary about them and why Kaikoura and, of course, the dusky dolphins are so special. I had hired a GoPro camera for the tour and had great fun filming the dolphins when I swam with them. Back at the Encounter Kaikoura base, the footage was copied to a USB, and I had memories of my incredible experience ready to take home with me.
Reflecting on the Kaikoura experience, I would have to say it was one of the highlights of my adventures so far. I found the range of accommodation available and the number of eateries pleasantly surprising for a small town; there is no shortage of choice. I especially enjoyed fish and chips on the beach. The seafood is fresh and delicious and admiring the coastal landscape while I munched was a perfect end to a superb day. I will be back in the not too distant future to experience more of this unique gem of a marine paradise – Kaikoura.
Swimming with the dolphins was an exhilirating experience