It was time for an adventure. My partner Karina, her mother (visiting from the States) and I packed every hatch of our two kayaks with sleeping bags, mats, tents, food, the whole shooting match, and headed to the South Island in search of marine life, kicking off with four days of epic kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds.
The Marlborough Sounds have a few DoC campsites scattered along the coast; they offer the bare minimum facilities but the view looking out over the water from your tent is heaven.
According to one local, the local Hector’s dolphins are rarely seen and are scarcely ever spotted leaping out of the water, but someone must have forgotten to give them the memo, because both times we saw these miniature torpedoes, they put on a show.
We were greeted by around seven dolphins on each occasion who would swim around the bow of the boat before racing off in front of us. Dolphins are interesting to watch, and my orca encounters are often the same. They have a way of letting me know when they are not interested in interacting, and it’s at that point you should just either stop and watch them from a distance, or move on and leave them to relax; it’s important to recognise that behaviour with all cetaceans.
The accessibility of being able to venture into one of the most jaw-dropping places on earth is something that few in the world would ever get to experience and it’s a place that breathes magic wherever you look. The dolphins were easily the biggest highlight for me but watching a big male fur-seal thrashing an octopus from side to side was quite a sight.
Conservation tip: If you happen to come across dolphins in your boat, remember to slow down to ‘no wake speed’ within 300m of them and don’t make any sudden changes in direction if they are near your boat. Propellers can do serious damage to both whales and dolphins.
Next stop, Kaikoura: a marine lover’s paradise. It offers a diversity in marine species we just don’t see in Tauranga. There is some serious soul in this land, and you can feel it the instant you get there.
Waking up on our first morning, I pulled back the curtains and was utterly gobsmacked to see hundreds of splashes across the surface of the water in the distance. Dusky dolphins exude happiness and playfulness and they are unmatched when it comes to aerial acrobatic stakes: backflipping, cartwheeling; they are just so cool!
Conservation tip: Dolphins don’t always want to play or interact and will often show signs of this by moving away from your vessel when you draw closer. If they do this, you are best to simply stop and watch them from a distance. This reduces stress on the animal, especially if they are resting. I carry a pair of binoculars for this reason.
There are often lots of New Zealand fur seals around Kaikoura too. For your and the animal’s safety, do not get closer than 20 metres to a seal hauled out on a beach or on rocks and never get between the seal and the ocean.
It was time to leave the coast, much to my dismay (I find it hard to leave the ocean, even momentarily!), but what awaited in sheer majestic greatness certainly made up for it.
We camped underneath Mount Aoraki and sat there watching it for the longest time as the sun was going down, trying to hold onto every last bit of light that forever changes the mood of this magnificent mountain. As I sat there, I kept asking myself, was I really born in this incredible country? You can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride when you stand before a giant like this.
On to Moeraki, known for its world-famous boulders, and a lesser-known ocean-swimming bird that I’d not seen before. In Tauranga, we have the smallest penguin in the world: the stunning little blue penguin, who also lives in Moeraki along with his slightly larger cousin, the yellow-eyed penguin.
I have a few thousand Facebook followers, a good majority of whom are overseas and are often gobsmacked to see penguins in my pictures when I’m out kayaking in our temperate waters – they imagine all penguins waddle around on ice.
I can only imagine what they might think when I tell them that in Moeraki they actually climb green, grassy hills and live in burrows on the hillside. It’s an image that many people just can’t quite get their head around.
Conservation tip: These exceptionally stunning little penguins are dropping dramatically in numbers so care should be taken around their burrows so we don’t disturb the birds. Like the Hector’s dolphins, we’ve got to look after what we have here in this unique country.
As a nation, we are so busy planning trips overseas in search of something a little bit different that we often rule out the South Island because it’s not ‘abroad.’ And when we hear tourists talking about the South Island, we tend to smile and shrug it off as if to say, “Yeah, I know…that’s just New Zealand for ya,” as though we’ve been there a hundred times ourselves but the truth is, many of these tourists see more of our country than we do.
Go on! Do it! Plan your next adventure! Then go on my Facebook page and tell me all about it.