March 10th 2011 - Kaikoura
March 8th 2011 – We took our leave of Hanmer Springs and headed back to the coast, our destination Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a very special place, it is the whale watching centre of New Zealand! The reason for this is that just off shore there is a 1000m deep trench called The Kaikoura Canyon. This is very close to the shore and is where Sperm Whales feed on squid, sharks and fish at depths of up to 800m! When the whales come up to breathe that is the time when you get chance to see them. We arrived just after lunch and checked into the local Top 10 then went for a walk up into town. It’s a nice little town full of the usual souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants but it has a nice feel to it. We also went to the Whaleway Station(!) to book a whale-spotting trip for tomorrow. The booking office is actually on the side of the railway track, hence the name!
When we got back to the van we were pounced upon by a herd of hungry ducks. We just happened to have a spare crust or two so Clive set about feeding them. One of them was rather exuberant and got so excited about the bread he jumped onto Clive’s foot and wasn’t the slightest bit perturbed when Clive raised his leg into the air!!
There was a campervan parked across from us in the campsite and whilst I was blogging Clive had a chat with the couple on board. They were from Clonmel in Co. Tiperary, Ireland. It turned out that they had actually been in Christchurch on the day of the quake, in fact they had only arrived there the night before from Australia! They had just left their hotel room, with all their belongings in it, to go and look around the city when the quake hit! They made a dash for the riverbank and fortunately weren’t injured. However, all their belongings, including passports, laptop, clothes etc etc are still in the hotel, which is in the cordoned off area and nobody has access to it. They were left with only the clothes they were standing up in! They are now touring New Zealand for a couple of weeks and then, after a week of total relaxationin Fiji, are due to fly to Canada to visit their son. They have managed to get temporary passports but are flying via Los Angeles and the US won’t allow anyone in without one of the new digitized passports! So they have an appointment with the US embassy in Auckland in about ten days time to see if that can be sorted out!
We went up into the town in the evening for a meal. Kaikoura is famed for its wonderful seafood, especially for their Crayfish or Rock Lobster. In fact, Kaikoura means “meal of crayfish” in Maori! We did have seafood for dinner, I had a wonderful Fish Chowder and Clive had Blue Cod and chips – both were yummy!
March 9th 2011 – Kaikoura - When we woke up this morning we couldn’t believe our luck. The sun was shining brightly and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky! Clive took some photographs of the mountains, they looked so beautiful with their snowclad peaks against the perfect blue sky.
We spent a very leisurely morning, did some laundry and the inevitable blog – still trying to catch up! We had some lunch and then it was time to go! Remarkably the weather was still absolutely fantastic. We went around to the Whaleway Station and ascertained that things were looking good for whale spotting. We had booked to go on the 3.30pm trip but they wouldn’t take our money when we booked yesterday in case the trip couldn’t go ahead for any reason. For example, you are guaranteed 80% of your fee back if you don’t actually see a whale, so obviously they don’t take the boat out if there are no whales around or if the weather is too rough. Today there were no problems, whales had been spotted on previous trips during the day and the weather conditions couldn’t have been better.
Before setting off we had to watch a safety video then we boarded the bus and headed for the South Bay. We were soon on board and heading out to sea – I was so excited! We had a very knowledgeable young lady giving us a commentary and telling us what to do once a whale was spotted and then the boat suddenly slowed right down and she announced that we could all go out to the portside of the boat as there was a male Sperm Whale close by! So, bristling with cameras and binoculars everyone took there place along the guard rail, all eyes on the surface of the sea and then suddenly there he was, blowing!
Unlike other whales and dolphins who have central blowholes the Sperm Whale's blowhole is situated to the left hence the spray is at a 45 degree angle!
I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it was to actually see this huge animal so close. The photos don’t give you any indication of size really. However in this next picture what you are actually seeing is the whale from nose to dorsal hump, only about half his length as the latter half with the tail hangs down in the water. We were informed by our young guide that this was a youngish whales around 18m in length.
Young Sperm Whale, approx 18m long - this only shows half of that!!
We watched this whale for several minutes and I took dozens of photos, she then announced that he was getting ready to dive and to be prepared, as he was just taking his last big breath! Evidently this last breath is used to oxygenate the blood then as the whale dives the air is forced up into the nasal cavity where it remains until the whale surfaces again. The lungs, which are not actually very large considering the size of the animal, flatten completely with the underwater pressure and remain in this state until the whale breathes again.
Preparing to dive
Sure enough a few seconds later up came his tail
Like slow motion it went up and over
Then finally sank down into the waves
By this time there were tears streaming down my face, in fact its making me fill up just thinking about it! I just cannot explain how amazing this experience was, only someone who has witnessed something so wonderful can understand how I feel!
Our guide pointed something else out to us just after the whale’s fluke had disappeared beneath the waves, an area of flat calm water on the surface, this is what she called the “flukeprint” it is caused by the whale diving at incredible speed through the water down into the depths of the Kaikoura Canyon.
Well we thought we were incredibly fortunate to have seen this whale but we were told to get back inside into our seats quick as another whale had been spotted some distance away. We rushed back to our seats and were jolted backwards as the boat took off at high speed. A few minutes later the whole process was repeated with another whale and then another and another! In fact we saw seven Sperm Whales in total. How amazing.
We also had another surprise in store when a Wandering Albatross came into view and flew alongside us for a few moments. How incredible these birds are, with a vast wingspan of up to 11 feet (3.5m) and they only come ashore to breed, spending most of their lives at sea!
The Royal Albatross which we saw last week up in Dunedin have a wingspan of approximately 9.8 feet (3m) and they looked pretty big but these are huge!
We returned to the shore very happy indeed with our very productive whale spotting trip – we certainly didn’t ask for a refund!! That is one experience that is going to remain with us forever!
When we got back to the campsite our Irish neighbours, Anne and Liam were sitting outside their van and asked how we got on (they had been on the trip prior to ours). We started to tell them and then Anne suggested we all arm ourselves with a nice glass of wine and make use of the picnic table adjacent to the van – that is exactly what we did and had a very pleasant evening indeed.
March 10th 2011 – We said our goodbyes to Anne and Liam and swapped contact details etc. We asked a fellow camper to take a photo of the four of us before we parted.
Anne & Liam Breen, Mel and Clive
We left Kaikoura and headed up the coast road, it’s a wonderful road with the most fantastic views all along the coast. At one point Clive thought he had spotted some penguins on the beach and he quickly pulled into the side, grabbed the camera and ran back. They turned out to be Pied Shags, which actually look very similar to penguins as they stand upright! While he was gone I noticed a little caravan across the road advertising “Cooked Crays”! When Clive got back I suggested he go and check it out. The main reason why wehadn’t tried the Crayfish in Kaikoura was that they were very expensive in the restaurants! He came back with one – this one was half the price of the ones in town! We hit the road again, heading into wine country! We were making for Blenheim which is at the heart of the Marlborough wine making district of New Zealand. There are so many wineries here and many of them have open cellar doors, meaning you can go and taste and, if you wish, buy wines direct from the maker. The scenery changed completely, from rugged mountains into soft rolling, grass covered hills. We drove through mile after mile of vines, every reasonable spot had vines on it from the bottom of valleys to the slopes of the hills, everywhere you looked there were vines!
Vines, vines and more vines!
We had been thinking of stopping for lunch at some point and as we were driving along I spotted a sign which looked interesting - “Saltworks”! In 2004 on our last trip to New Zealand we had taken the Scenic Coastal Railway from Picton to Christchurch, which was a marvellous journey. One of the things I remembered from this trip was passing the salt pans and here they were! The sea water is contained in the pans and as the water evaporates the salt crystals are left behind. They look rather strange because they are pink!
Pink salt pans!
As we drove along this little side road we passed the saltworks themselves, you couldn’t actually go in and have a look around but it was interesting seeing the vast piles of salt outside!
Vast piles of salt!
We crossed over the very railway line that we had travelled on in 2004, parked the van and had a quick sandwich then headed back to the main road and it wasn’t long before we arrived in Blenheim. We parked the van and went and found a bar with tables outside, Clive had a beer and I had a very nice glass of Pinot Noir, which was evidently made by the local rubgy club!! Funnily enough, just as we were parking the van another campervan passed us going the other way, it was Liam and Anne! They didn’t spot us though and Clive couldn’t blow the horn as he had just turned the ignition off!
After our liquid refreshment we decided to go and taste some wine! We called in at the information centre and picked up a map of the wineries. We chose the Framingham Estate and it didn’t take very long to get there. We tried several wines, three of which were white – we don’t normally drink white wine! However they were very pleasant indeed. The two reds that we tried didn’t take our fancy at all! It was quite obvious though that this estate was mainly a producer of white wines and they were very good indeed and had received very good recommendations from famous wine connoisseurs such as Jancis Robinson! We ended up buying a very nice bottle of Classic Riesling, not for ourselves but for a very good friend of ours, who shall be nameless but lives up near Auckland and has a little dog called Radar!!
It was time to find a campsite. We had decided to stay on a DOC site tonight and Clive had spotted a really nice one in the DOC book in a small bay situated within Cloudy Bay. It didn’t take us long to find it. It was a really beautiful spot called White’s Bay. The bay itself is named after a black seaman who jumped ship back in the 1840s, built a shack and lived with the local Maori for the rest of his life. He was known as Black Jack White!
After spending some time just enjoying the beach and rescuing one of many honey bees which were crawling about on the sand all wet and bedraggled, we headed back to the van for dinner. What a lovely meal we had, salad and Kaikaura Crayfish – delicious – accompanied by a rather cheeky Cabernet Merlot out of a box!!
Crayfish salad - yummy!
We spent an hour or so doing some crosswords by lamplight then it was time for bed. The night sky was absolutely amazing - black velvet encrusted with sparkling diamonds, awesome! I knew I wouldn't need my mask tonight!