It’s a three hour bus ride from Christchurch to Kaikoura and having left painfully early we arrived just before 10. We stayed in the lovely Albatross Inn, which felt very homely, apart from one hour in the day where the whole place was on lockdown for military-precision cleaning. We chilled on our first day, grabbing a book each from the shelf and snuggling under blankets close to the fire. It was freezing, as a short walk to the convenience store proved. Our first night the hostel hosted a pizza party, providing delicious homemade pizza and apple crumble and a great way to get to know other guests. Our beds here were really comfy so it was difficult getting up the next morning, early, even though we had a fantastic day ahead. At 8:30 we were down by the beach, kitting ourselves out in 10mm wetsuits for swimming with dolphins! Due to the rough weather heading in we were lucky enough to find a pod only 15 minutes from shore. After a quick scramble to get ready we jumped into the choppy water and stuck our snorkelled heads under the waves. Dolphins everywhere!!!
The freezing water took my breath away initially, and I never recovered before these amazing marine acrobats appeared and took what was left away as well. It was incredible to watch them sprint and twist through the water, swimming circles around our small group and darting past us so close you could have reached out and touched them if you had been fast enough. They were very playful and keen to show off, and we got terrific views of their swimming styles, colours of blue and grey on their skin, and unique scarring all over their bodies.
We were in the water for about 18 minutes before the dolphins disappeared and we hopped back onto the end of the boat. A quick motor along and we rejoined them in the water; I should note that all the time we were in the water we were told to sing or make noise to keep the dolphin’s interested and get their attention if we wanted to interact. It must have sounded hilarious to anyone on the boat – most chose to squeal or blow through their snorkel, I alternated between humming ‘Under the sea’ and ‘Beyond the sea’ (so original).
You could also try and keep up with turning to face them as they circled you as a form of play, but this may have contributed to my seasickness. Yep, due to the choppy waters both floating in the sea and retreating to the boat most of the group were sick by the third dive, and personally I’ve never felt worse at sea. However, this can’t detract from what was an incredible experience, we were so lucky to get to see so many and have them so close to watch and enjoy.
On our last day we spent the morning planning our onward travel, as the earthquake last November is still causing problems for much of this area’s infrastructure and the road north from Kaikoura remains closed. We found we had to go back south to Christchurch and take a bus from there the next day to Nelson. With buses and hostels booked, we walked into town to have a look around. It’s relatively small but with a great selection of cafes and views of the sea and mountains. We bought some baking ingredients from the supermarket and spent the afternoon making brownies (and eating them), which seemed the perfect thing to do when it’s cold outside and toasty inside.
On our last morning we went for a run to the nearby seal colony and enjoyed watching some Asian tourists desperately trying to get close to some very large, intimidating fur seals lounging on the rocks. It was a great road to enjoy the scenery in general and read a bit about the old fishing wharf and whaling industry. Then it was back on the bus to Christchurch, technically on our way to next stop Nelson!