A Close en­counter

Kaik­oura is a unique gem, writes He­lena Wise­man.

Go Travel New Zealand - - Kaikoura / Hanmer -

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

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