Dolphins, seals and beaches on the South Island

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March 16th 2014
Published: March 19th 2014
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Our time on the South Island is already half way through, even more. At the moment we're sitting in the kitchen facility of an exceptionally fancy (for us, that is) campsite, usually we stay at the rather basic DOC campsites, which cost next to nothing, but today we had heard that a cyclon would hit northern parts of the island, and that would mean heavy rains in our area too. Thus, we figured we would get a motel room for the night, but a last minute weather forecast check at the New World supermarket parking lot (they have a good and free wifi) showed that it was a false alarm, so we ended up camping in any case, only a DOC site wasn't available in this town. Camping has become so much nicer since we got our discount cold weather sleeping bags; the investment of 35 NZD per bag has certainly paid of greatly - nowadays we don't have to wear all our clothes at night, and yet we feel snug and warm <3 It's a pity that those bags are way too big to take along after we leave New Zealand!

South Island has been awesome, the landscapes are more dramatic than on the North Island, especially now that we are further south. The volcanic sights are not here, but plenty of other cool things are. We started our trip by driving directly from the ferry (the journey was beautiful, by the way) towards Kaikoura, because we wanted to swim with dolphins. Well, at the Kaikoura tourist information site we for the first time ran into the fact that lots of things in this country get filled up fast, and you need to book a lot of things months in advance. We knew that, but anyway we have found it too difficult to plan for exact dates when to do a specific hike months in ahead. So, we could not book the dolphin swim on the date we wanted to go either, but luckily it was available after a few days wait. The Milford Sound great walk then again was fully booked up to May. With a few days on our hands in Kaikoura, we had time to do a few very cool walks, which we might have missed had we got the dolphin thingie arranged immediately. First we walked around the Kaikoura peninsula, which was fantastic - extremely beautiful coast with "pancake rocks" and lots and lots of cute seals. On the second day the weather was cloudy and grey, but we left for the Mount Fyffe hike anyway. The route didn't seem very impressive for the most part, and after we had reached a lookout point (where we didn't see much at all due to fog), we were wondering whether we should just go back to the carpark or keep going on the steep uphill route. We decided to go on ten more minutes, as a man we met said that when we reach the point where the clouds fade, the views are spectacular. Thankfully we did, because after a bit more cloudy hiking we were rewarded with sunny scenery and wonderful snowcapped mountain views.

The swimming with dolphins excursion started at 5.30 in the morning, so, we had to crawl out of our tent in total darkness at 4.30 am. The idea of getting to the ocean did not feel tempting at that point. But, we had paid a hefty fee for the tour, and wanted to see dolphins, so we had no choice but to get into the wetsuits and jump into the water. Our tour guide told us that sometimes they can only find a few dolphins, sometimes eight hundred, so I guess we were reasonably lucky as there supposedly were few hundred dolphins around when we got into the water. It was quite amazing to watch all those dolphins swimming and jumping around from the boat deck, but in the water, unfortunately, it was a bit of a different story. The water visibility was poor, and we had been instructed to attract and "entertain" the dolphins by singing, making any kind of sounds and swimming in circles. Leo was singing, and he said that the song Yellow Submarine seemed to work best to attract the dolphins to come and see who is making those weird sounds :D I was just making some sounds, but also saw dolphins on the close distance perhaps five times during the four short swims we took. They were cute and all, but we were a bit disappointed at the fact that the dolphins really had to be just a meter away before we could see them in the water, even though there were dozens or even hundreds around, we could hardly see them once we left the boat.

After we had swum with dolphins we started our car towards Abel Tasman National Park. We had booked a three day excursion, we wanted to kayak around the coastal park for two days, and then hike back to the car park on the third day. The company asked us to arrive at 8.30 in the morning for a "briefing". Well, I wasn't prepared for the fact that it would be nearly 1.30pm before we were actually kayaking around the park. Sure, it's important to go through all the safety measures etc, but I guess it didn't have to take five hours. Well, Abel Tasman proved to be quite small, much smaller than we thought, so we had more than enough time in any case. On the first day we kayaked to an island to take a look at a seal colony, and then to our first camp site. On the second day we kayaked another few hours to the next campsite. There wasn't really enough waters to kayak to fill two entire days anyway, so we also did some walks around the campsites. On day three we hiked 12+ kilometers to get to our car again, the scenery was mostly forestry, but occasionally we got beautiful views of the turquoise ocean dotted with islands and rocks. In addition to the beautiful archipelago scenery, another highlight was definitely seeing some sea animals up close. The seals were one thing, but we also twice saw a penguin swimming near our kayak. I think it was the little blue penguin, for which we had seen a warning sign "little blue penguin crossing" on a road in Wellington, awww 😊

After we reached the carpark of the kayak company we took one of the best (most needed) showers ever, and then started driving again. We reached the tiny village of Okarito around 5pm the next day to enquire about the kiwi bird spotting tours a guy called Ian is running nightly. At first he said that the last places for the night were sold just three minutes ago - damn! But then he started asking how much we actually want to see a kiwi in the wild and where we are from, then after stating that the Finns were one his favorite people, he said he could squeeze us in. So, at dusk we headed to the bushes equipped with mosquito hats and torches. Ian has been observing the extremely rare Okarito kiwis (385 individuals altogether) in the area for years, and has access to a tracking device used to locate them. He told us very interesting facts about the kiwis, and thus the tour would have been interesting even without success. But, after some very exciting moments of standing next to the dark bushes listening to the sounds of the branches breaking, BZ finally came out of the bushes onto the road on which we were standing. BZ is one of the tracked kiwis and is inhabiting the territory with his spouse, Beaumont. We saw him emerge from the bush, and then he was standing next to us for a few seconds before running off along the road back into the bushes. It might be hard to imagine this, but somehow seeing the kiwi like that in the wild was a very cool moment for us. And Ian made the entire evening superb by being such a great and funny guide. Btw, the kiwi was quite round and about the size of a chicken - larger than I had thought.

Now, today then, we drove from Okarito area to the glaciers. First we took a walk to see Franz Josef glacier, which was, to be honest, some kind of a disappointment. The walk to the glacier's edge was through a reasonably beautiful glacial valley, but all we could see of the glacier was a bit of rather dirty ice somewhere up in the mountain. Then we still drove to the second glacier, Fox, but there we opted for a hike around the lake Matheson, which offered some nice snowcapped mountain views and mountain reflections on the lake. It would have been possible to get to the actual glaciers by helicopter, and do a hike there. I'm sure it would have been awesome, but all these activities we've done, and will do, here are getting expensive enough, and a helicopter flight certainly doesn't sound cheap, so that was it in terms of glaciers for us. Next we are headed towards Queenstown and the Fiordlands.

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26th March 2014

Hej på er! Era äventyr på södra ön låter fascinerande! Kaj och jag var ju i NZ år 2008 och besökte bl.a glaciären vid Franz Josef, också för oss en liten besvikelse, det var så disigt att man inte kunde se den så bra och man fick inte gå så nära pga. smältvatten bäckarna. Vi var också till Milford Sound, vi hade bokat hela rundturen på södra ön via en resebyrå, i Auckland om jag minns rätt. Det var en trevlig fjordtur, men ni har nog säkert sett så mycket annat att ni inte behöver sörja över att ni inte fick möjlighet till den. Vi följer med er blogg med intresse. Sköt om er, håll er varma. Mycket hälsningar och kramar till er båda. Maria, kaj hälsar också.
27th March 2014

Hej! Vi besökte nog också Milford, den bloggen har vi inte ännu hunnit få färdig, men den kommer nog snart! Sköt om er med, värme torde inte mera vara något problem då vi just anlänt till varma Australien. :) Kramar från oss båda, Leo och Johanna

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