Kaikoura: Cuteness overload peninsula

Studies have shown that looking at cute things and adorable animals can make us feel more aggressive. I definitely suffer from this strange phenomenon and the phrases “oh, it’s so cute I just want to squeeze it until it’s eyeballs pop out!” and “I love you so much I just want to squeeze you until your head pops off!” are no strangers to my vocabulary. Of course I don’t really want this to happen, but I can’t change the laws of science, overwhelming cuteness makes me aggressive.

This made Kaikoura an extremely dangerous place for Gordon….

 

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The drive to Kaikoura is about 8 hours total, so we planned for a few stops. On the way up, we had a picnic lunch at an overlook then took a brief look around Christchurch. Rather than making the rest of the drive to Kaikoura, we stopped at a DOC campsite outside of Christchurch. The Department of Conservation provides campsites around the country for minimal costs, sometimes even free. That means these sites range from maintained, adequate facilities to nothing but a stream. We went for the latter and tested our “car camping” skills in preparation of our upcoming month-long trip.

 

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On our first day in Kaikoura, we took a walk into town for lunch, then out to a seal colony on the peninsula.  We immediately saw 4-5 seals, but we had been encouraged to continue walking around the peninsula past the “tourist” destination. There, we found at least a hundred seals lounging, resting and swimming.

 

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This guy knows how to do it… rocks for a pillow? No thanks.

 

The rules associated with seals are to stay 10 meters away from them and try to avoid walking or standing between them and the water. Though these seals weren’t breeding and aren’t particularly aggressive, they’re wild animals, thus unpredictable and sometimes territorial. But while exploring a colony that size and walking along a beach littered with snoozing seals, we nearly stumbled over seals more than a few times.

 

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This mom was getting so irritated with her two rambunctious pups… so entertaining!

 

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Gordon really liked this guy. He said his mannerisms (lying on his back, begging for his chin and belly to be scratched) reminded him of his dog, Seth.

 

And in case you haven’t had enough… here is a gallery of more seal pictures (still only a small portion of all we have!):

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And now a short video of our new seal friends!
After a couple hours of watching seal pups play, moms bark at their pups, and dads sunbathing and preening, we finally managed to drag ourselves away. Unfortunately, we had wandered pretty far and were a bit disoriented, and ended up walking about six hours in total that day. Needless to say, we were knackered. So after a home cooked meal at the hostel, we called it an early night.

 

For my birthday, not only did Gordon treat me to an amazing weekend, but he gave me a voucher for whale watching in Kaikoura. So our second day was focused on finding nature’s largest mammals. We boarded the boat and headed out to sea. Whale Watch Kaikoura has this down to an art. The captains are incredibly skilled at finding whales and predicting when they will surface for air, even without sonar equipment.

 

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As soon as we got out to sea, we found Tiaki, a sperm whale, taking a breath at the surface then watched him dive down. Forty minutes later when he resurfaced, we were there to watch the whole thing again.

 

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Right off the coast of the peninsula, there is a underwater canyon more than three times as deep as the height of the Sky Tower in Aukland.  The waters are extremely plentiful with an expansive food chain, starting from microscopic algae all the way up to giant squids.

 

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Before returning to the marina, our guides were able to find a pod of at least 60 Dusky Dolphins. These guys are the acrobatic wonders of the sea and incredibly curious and playful. They swam around the boat, showing off and doing tricks.

 

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And now… another gallery of pictures from this day:

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Then it was time for a bit of vacation chillaxing. We found a nice beachy spot to sit, read and nap. Yes, we might have been fully covered and wrapped up in towels and sleeping bags by the end of it, but we were hanging out on a beach… That’s all that matters!

 

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Before heading to Kaikoura, Gordon gave me three options for activities other than the whale watch. The llama trek sounded sweet, but I thought I would be riding a llama. After looking it up I realized it was just taking the llama for a walk like a dog. Cool, but we could do better. Swimming with dolphins sounded great because we would be in one of the huge pods of dusky dolphins, surrounded by playful, interactive dolphins craving attention. But that’s something we could do in several places in the world and it was also the most expensive. So I chose the moderately priced, unique experience of the Seal Swim.

 

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I chose well. We met at the shop at 9 am, having picked a morning session to avoid rough waters. After getting geared up with wetsuits, fins, and snorkels, we took a bus to the marina. Out on our small yellow boat, we were immediately greeted by a small mating group of dusky dolphins. They were curious and playful, but, being a mating group, clearly had other things on their mind, so we quickly left to give them some privacy. After passing a little blue penguin swimming and a gannet diving for fish, we anchored in a cove similar to the ones Gordon and I had explored on our first day.

 

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Different tours aren’t allowed to let you swim with or interact with animals other than their designated ones to prevent too much stress for the animals. But I was leaning over so far that if I had just fallen in…

 

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In the water, the seals were a bit hesitant and the bone chilling water had less than desirable clarity. Our guide led us into a small en cove to take a look at a couple seals relaxing in the water. We could see two seals floating upside down, glancing at us occasionally while they cleaned their whiskers and cooled off.

 

Unfortunately, we don’t have an underwater camera, but Seal Swim Kaikoura shared photos with us after our swim. So the following images are theirs, but give a glimpse into our experience.

 

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But then the fun got started. Several more curious seals decided to check out the weird skinny black seals splashing around (us). Once they decided we were all right, they got wound up like a kid chasing his chocolate with Fanta.

 

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The seals darted back and forth, behind us, directly up to our faces, rolling in corkscrews, and even arcing up through the air – sometimes directly in front of us, once over us! We could hardly decide whether we should keep our heads underwater or up, because there was no telling where they would be, where they were going and when they wanted to take a closer look at as. It took every inch of self control I had to not reach out and touch these guys when they swam near me.

 

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Our guide kept verbally hoping they would “chill out and relax a little” so we could watch their peaceful habits, but personally, I found the big dark puppy dog eyes swimming around me excitedly even more spectacular.

 

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Hold up, I need to go pop some bubble wrap, the cute memory is way too overpowering.

 

Somehow the guide – or my numb toes – eventually urged me back in the boat so we could head back to town and get warmed up.

 

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In Maori Kaikoura means “meal of crayfish,” so Gordon and I had planned on trying the lobster-like crustacean while on the peninsula. The best place – budget wise, taste and atmosphere – is a roadside seafood bbq truck right outside of town center. So after changing into cozy clothes, Gordon and I hiked out to refuel. We rounded out our half crayfish meal with a Paua Pattie – another New Zealand speciality – since my last experience with paua was a little disappointing. Both delicacies lived up to their hypes and Gordon and I walked back fully satisfied and ready to check out the town a bit.

 

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We finished our afternoon with a home cooked meal of grilled fish from a local seafood mart. After dinner, we still had some time to kill before our next activity, so while Gordon caught up on March Madness updates, I spent time in the hostel’s crafting corner. Yes, a hostel with a crafting corner.

 

Actually, let me just take a minute to sing praises about Albatross Backpacker Inn. I have come to expect very little from backpackers. They are places lots of young people travel through and most of these establishments don’t put in any more than the necessary effort. Albatross was different. It was extremely “green,” and not just in the simple ways.

 

With 300+ guests coming through each week, they manage to stick to just one bin of waste per week – the rest is recycled or sent to a farm to feed pigs. The entire place was clean. I didn’t feel like I had to have shoes on at every moment or cringe if I touched the wall of the shower. It was actually comfortable. My bed had a full set of (clean) sheets, with extra pillows and blankets, with fresh, soft towels. They offer extra amenities if you need, like hair dryers or converters. They have a herb garden with a few veggies that are free to use, along with a fully stocked kitchen and outdoor grills. The kitchen even has baking supplies, with the condition that if you make treats, you share them with others. They don’t have a tv in the common area – instead they encourage guests to visit with each other, play the piano, strum one of the many guitars, play the board or card games available, or, in my case, paint. I was absolutely awed by how well-run this place was. It’s going to be hard to go back to a run-down, haunted and/or diseased hostel after this one.

 

So after my crafting hour, Gordon and I went on a nighttime adventure to the marina. Now, during our time in New Zealand, I have taken Gordon on many unfruitful nighttime expeditions to see birds. Once penguins and twice kiwis. Wandering around in the middle of the night, looking for birds we never see feels very much like snipe hunting, but Gordon has been a good sport. I was shocked he agreed to go looking for little blue penguins with me.

 

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Our view of the night sky on our penguin-hunt. Check out this one too!

 

But it was worth it! Within a few minutes of wandering along some coastal rocks, we saw this little bugger hanging out. He scooted away from us, hunched over – probably exactly how I would act if someone snuck up on me and shined a light on my face while I was trying to sleep. We watched him a little longer, out of direct light, but then decided to let the ol’ chap go back to his dozing.

 

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Unfortunately (or fortunately), our long weekend away in Kaikoura had to come to an end before I caught something and squeezed it too tightly. After seals, dolphins, whales, penguins and other birds, I have had a weekend of cuteness overload and am fully in love with Kaikoura.

 

I’m going to go give Gordon a big hug now. Fingers crossed his head doesn’t pop off.

 

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