Hey everyone! I know you’ve all been avidly following our adventures for so long, wondering why we don’t have a greater social media presence. Maybe reading a long boring blog post is too time consuming or difficult, and you’d rather we presented you with bite sized, easily digestible photographic posts. Why can’t you keep up to date with our adventures as we’re adventuring? Well now you can! Just follow us on Instagram:
We were coming up on the end of our time in New Zealand, and since my mom and sister were going to be joining us we wanted to show them around and make sure they got the ultimate New Zealand experience while they were visiting. We put together a roughly two week itinerary that moved counter clockwise around the South Island, stopping by some of our favorite places as well as some places that we had meant to visit, but hadn’t been able to yet.
One of our first stops was at Encounter Kaikoura. My mom and sister, both big animal lovers, really wanted to do the Dolphin Encounter tour. When we started looking into it though, we realized that the day we were going to be in the area, the only available tour spaces were for the 5:30 am tour. We were going to be spending the night before in Christchurch, and since State Highway 1 was closed overnight, we would have to take the inland route (a three hour drive) to get there.
We initially decided against it because who wants to get up at 2 am and drive for three hours. After thinking about it some more we decided to go for it. This was the start of our last hurrah in New Zealand and we were going to go all out. We booked our spots on the tour and never looked back. That being said, when we woke up at 2 am on the day of our tour I was pretty miserable. Of course I was the one who had to drive for three hours on these small, dark, winding roads. I was only able to stay awake thanks to everyone’s participation in fun car games like Contact.
We were a little bit late to the shop, but the staff were friendly and pleasant anyway as they showed us where to get our wet-suits. We watched a short safety video in the shop that helped us understand a little more about the creatures we’d be swimming with – the Dusky dolphins. To briefly summarize: the dolphins are wild, so there’s no telling where they will be, how many there will be, or whether or not they will interact with you. We were informed that making noise and diving underwater will tend to get them to come over and check you out. They’re very curious but it was made very clear that this wasn’t a petting zoo – touching is a big no-no! The good folks at Encounter Kaikoura were always keeping safety in mind, so we learned specific hand signals to use to notify the staff in case of an emergency.
As we set off down the coast to search for our Dusky buddies, the sun was just beginning to rise. The mountainous coast, wrapped in early morning clouds, was an incredible sight to behold. I felt like it would have been worth taking a boat ride down the coast just to see this scenery at sunrise. Moana really nailed this magnetism best: “See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me.” It wasn’t too long before we made our first dolphin sighting. We all had our wet-suits on, snorkels and masks fastened, and flippers on our feet. The boat slowed to a stop and we lined up along the back. A horn sounded to let us know that we could enter the water.
It was pretty cold, but the wet-suits kept us comfortable enough. The crew on the boat pointed out the best direction to swim in order to reach the dolphins. The wet-suits were also very buoyant, so staying afloat wasn’t hard at all (though they had extra flotation devices available, just in case). It must have been a pretty funny sight, all of us wriggling around in the water trying to look dolphin friendly, making all kinds of funny noises through our snorkels to try to attract the dolphins (some people got really into the noise making…REALLY into it).
We were pretty lucky because the dolphins were feeling very friendly this morning. I was swimming along and suddenly this gray shape darted out of the shadows and swam right past me. I circled in place so I could follow it, but it was so fast I could hardly keep up. Soon there were more of them. It seemed like they were coming from every direction. Some would swim around, checking me out for a few seconds, while others would zip past so close I thought they were going to run into me. The horn sounded again, signaling us to return to the boat.
We got back in and moved on a little further before getting back into the water for another dip with the dolphins. There were just as many the second time, and now we were all a bit more practiced with our dolphin noises and flipper maneuvers. It’s really difficult to describe just how amazing of an experience it was. The dolphins were clearly so intelligent and curious. There’s nothing like a little dolphin eye contact to make you feel special.
We moved on one more time for a third swim. By this point I was pretty tired (I had only eaten one muesli bar for breakfast and the early morning start was beginning to catch up with me). But I was also an experienced dolphin whisperer, so even though I spent a good bit of time just floating in the water like a piece of driftwood making halfhearted squeaky noises, I still had plenty of exciting dolphin experiences. I couldn’t believe how many dolphins I had seen that day, and talking with everyone else afterwards, it sounded like we all had the same experience. A beautiful bond was made that day, man and dolphin, sea and sky. **sheds a single tear whilst gazing off into the distance**
The hunger really hit as we started our return trip. My empty stomach and the constant rocking of the waves left me feeling a little nauseous. Fortunately, the boat was equipped with hot chocolate and ginger nuts aka tooth-breakers (or ginger snaps for my American friends) so my hunger was abated and the nausea subdued. Alana, who has a history of seasickness, didn’t enjoy the ride back nearly as much though.
When we got back to the shop there were showers, which felt really nice, but make sure to bring your own towel. After we finished up we had a nice breakfast (and lots of coffee) at Hislops Cafe, just down the road from the Encounter Shop, before heading off on another long drive to our next destination.