Waiting to take the plunge into the deep blue waters o Kaikoura
After a fresh coffee at the beach camp the 5am start did not seem so harsh plus we were full of excitement about our potential dolphin encounter in the icy waters of Kaikoura. I was put at ease when we arrived at the dolphin encounter base and were issued with numerous items of thick, high quality dive gear. With a sleeveless wetsuit, wetsuit jacket with crotch strap (not the best look but soooo lovely and warm when in the water :-), booties, gloves and wetsuit hood - once we had the snorkel masks on - it was just our cheeks that were exposed and we were roasting and ready or action. After a short but very informative video we headed out to the launch area, climbed aboard a lovely 2 storey boat and headed out across the ocean in search of the Dusky dolphin. It wasn't long before a small pod of about 20 started playing near the bow of the boat -we leaned out and could see them darting in and out, frolicking with each other before they turned and swam away. They twisted and turned through the water showing their white under bellies and occasionally glancing up at us with inquisitive eyes. The staff at dolphin encounter are really professional and put the welfare of the dolphins first which is really important in my view. They assess the dolphins behaviour to see if they would be good to swim with - to see if the dolphins would be happy with a bunch of splashing tourists jumping in next to them. These dolphins had lost interest quickly as the boat had slowed so on we went in search of dolphins in a more inquisitive mood. Sure enough another smaller pod appeared and seemed a little more interested - we put on our fins and shimmied to the lower area at the boat ready or the signal to dive. The shocking rush of water down the wetsuit soon faded as we squeaked and hummed down our snorkel tubes (in order to attract the dolphins - or so they say - perhaps this was for the entertainment of the spectators) occasionally looking up to see which direction our guide was pointing, we snorkelled through the water looking down into the blue abyss. Unfortunately, on this occasion the dolphins swam away again - they had a calf with them which could have been why, so back to the boat we went and off again in search of more.
We saw huge albatross swooping down and tucking into a tasty catch of fish on the surface - we were able to get really close and I couldnt beleive how huge this bird was! The weather turned and a strong southerly was forecast making conditions difficult for swimming so we headed for shore. Despite seeing many dolphins and having a cool albatross encounter too we all got a full refund due to not being able to swim closely with the dolphins. I thought this was really impressive as I'd still had a great time and now I'd had a great time for FREE! I'll definitely be heading back to The Dolphin encounter in the future. After a nice slab of carrot cake at teh encounter cafe we continued on our New Zealand tour and headed to Christchurch.