After catching the ferry from Wellington to Picton, we picked up our rental car and drove to Kaikoura. The drive is beautiful. Since we’ve been without a car for over a month, it was nice to get behind the wheel again. Brief shout out to the windy roads of Waitomo that helped prepare us for any kind of driving.
As soon as got close to Kaikoura, we saw a look out point that had a view of the ocean and a colony of fur seals basking on the rocks. We watched in awe as the fur seals fought each other and baby seals hobbled along the rocks, curious and wreaking havoc.
The seals were feisty when we saw them. Several started fighting. These two started yelling at each other on the rocks. The one on the right even swatted his/her flipper at the other.
Besides the fur seals, the landscape was spectacular.
The next day was our big adventure: The dolphin encounter. If this isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. Will had talked to someone who said she had done the swim in Kaikoura with dolphins and we had to do it. Both of us thought it sounded neat-o, so we made it fit into our trip. Best. Advice. Ever.
It was one of the most amazing things either one of us has ever done. Here’s our best explanation of the amazement that is the dolphin encounter.
- Sign up for the Dolphin Encounter swim. We did this over a week ago to make sure we had a spot. There’s lots of checking in and making sure the weather will be alright. Good thing for us, the weather was warm and there was barely any wind. We couldn’t ask for better conditions.
- Pack a bag with warm clothes, water, sunscreen, etc. Since we don’t have towels we had to hire some from the Dolphin Encounter. Lots of people did. No big deal
- Check in – get fitted for our wet suits aka the stuffed sausage suits (go to the bathroom first, wet suit etiquette peeps), watch a lovely video explaining you may not see any dolphins, they may not swim close to you, they are wild and the Dolphin Encounter company cannot control their behavior. The video also described techniques that may help attract dolphins or be enticed to check you out:
- Make funny dolphin noises! Yes! I have get to put my animal noise skills to the test! This is for the enjoyment of those on the boat watching the snorkelers as well as for the dolphins. Since the dolphins communicate so much with sound, they become curious about the noise and will come over
- Swim with your arms by your sides. No problem. The suits keep you buoyant and it’s hard to do much else.
- Once the dolphins are around you, circle them. Ok…we’ll see how that works out.
- Take a deep breath, dive under the water and pop back up. The diving down also interests the dolphins. It’s hard because the wet suits are so buoyant, but who doesn’t like a challenge?
- We were split up into groups, bussed over to the boat, shuffled below deck where we were introduced to the crew, and had a quick boat ride where we all became trained dolphin spotters. We met our crew. Jess was our guide. She’s a former paramedic who gave it up to work with dolphin encounters (her dream job). She’s getting married to her fiance on a boat next year, to someone she met on the job. After spotting the dolphins, we jumped in the water.
- The water is much warmer than the winter here. Our guide, Jess, explained the water gets into the single digits in the winter (celsius). We were around 16 degrees celsius. The first jump in still took my breath away.
- At first there’s nothing to see. The water was blue and murky, but it doesn’t provide a ton of visibility. Which means until the dolphins arrive, you have plenty of time to practice dolphin noises (not as easy as you think with a snorkel in your mouth and remembering to breath)
Being surrounded by wild dolphins is surreal. They swim in pods. For every one dolphin we saw above water, the guides explained there were about 4-5 more below surface. We had three different swims. I have no idea how long we got to swim during each jump. It felt like eternity and five minutes all at once. For a moment, it felt like time stood still, being surrounded by these wild creatures seemingly laughing at us. But it also felt like it was over so fast. It was only after we were on the boat and realized how tired we were, that we knew we had been in the water for longer than 5 minutes. The whole trip was around 3- 31/2 hours.
It was amazing to have one on one time with dolphins. We circled with them, stared them in the eye. They were curious and playful. When the dolphins first saw our boat, they began jumping out of the water doing flips or just high leaps. They were just as fun in the water. There were times at the beginning of the swim when we couldn’t see them yet. We could hear their high pitched chirping in the water. It got more frequent and louder the closer they got. Some were mere inches away, coming up for air next to you. Others swam right next to you, under you, in front of you. Sometimes they leave you alone and investigate other things, but their sounds still float through the waves.
After we got back on the boat, Jess let us take pics from the boat while we drank hot chocolate and ate ginger cookies. Jess and Steve found a pod of dolphins for us to get close to and we were able to get a lot of great shots. There are so many, but we didn’t want to bombard you. There aren’t even words to express what it’s like to be that close to a wild dolphin. So here are a few of the pics that won’t do the experience justice.
If you look closely at the picture above there’s a dolphin in mid flip. Our camera does this weird thing where it takes multiple photos and makes it into a 2 second video. The video somehow captured the summersault flip. This pic is mid flip where you can see the dolphins white belly. It makes it all the way around and does a bit of a belly flop into the water. Just wanting to say hello.
The dolphins raced alongside the boat, darting in front of it, underneath it, next to us. There was even a baby dolphin. Some french folks on board saw it and started yelling, Le petite bebe, le petite bebe…a baby, a baby! Will got a video of it, but alas, not baby dolphin pictures.
There were times we’d look up and the pod had seemed to diminish, but it goes back to what Jess said. For every one dolphin above water, there are 4-5 dolphins underwater. That’s a lot of dolphins.
On the way back to shore, we saw some fur seals floating on their backs, trying to get warm in the water. We also passed an albatross or two. At that point, we were both so in awe of what just happened, we couldn’t really focus on anything else. We had the perfect weather, blue skies, low wind, calm waters and a pod of 400-500 dolphins. When we got back to shore, some of the people from our group were talking about whether they would do it again. They said exactly how we felt. It was so amazing, so spectacular they would love to do it again, but would be afraid to be disappointed. It exceeded all expectations, they wouldn’t want to ruin the experience.
We spent a little under twenty-four hours in Kaikoura, but as we were leaving, we both said we wanted to come back one day. So until we meet again Kaikoura. Thanks for the experience of a lifetime.