My favourite fact of the trip is that NZ has no native land mammals. Think about it…there are a couple of native species of bat, but apart from that NZ is land of the birds, isn’t evolution amazing? It explains why a lot of the native bird population are flightless as there was no need to fly away from predators, and why so many of them became endangered or extinct once people began introducing mammals into the country.
Of course, one thing that NZ does have which we don’t tend to see around the UK is a amazing array of marine mammals and we have been lucky enough to encounter quite a few if them up close.
Everyone loves dolphins, they are playful, elegant and intelligent to boot. There are so many opportunities to see dolphins here that we have really been spoiled, you can do dolphin ‘safaris’, but we have actually seen dolphins on a lot of the other boat trips that we have been on from The Bay of Islands to Doubtful Sound. The dolphins love the boats and often surf along in the wake water either in front of, or behind you. So far we have seen Common, Bottle nosed, Dusky and Hector’s dolphins. My personal favourites were the Dusky dolphins in Kaikoura, who put on the most spectacular show of jumping and appeared to be by far the most playful.
The most exciting thing that we did involving dolphins was to swim with them. We did this in Akaroa where you can swim with the Hector’s dolphins, the smallest species of dolphin and one of the most endangered. It was an amazing experience to be in the water with them and to watch them as they darted past and around us in groups of two or three. I had been a little worried about the cold and about the deep water, but with an incredibly thick (and buoyant) wetsuit on it was all no problem. While swimming with the dolphins you probably don’t get as good a view of them as you do on a boat, but for the sheer thrill of being so close to them, you just can’t beat it.
The other marine mammal I was desperate to see was a whale. In Kaikoura you can take whale watching trips with a view to (hopefully) seeing sperm whales. The day before we did our trip, there had been no whales to be found, which does remind you that there are no guarantees when it come to nature. However, we were exceptionally lucky on our trip and we saw three different whales surface, breathe and dive (two up close and one much further away). The trip was well organised, informative and, although busy, didn’t feel too much like a tourist trap. Again, being right up next to these huge creatures is an incredible feeling. You see only a fraction of the whale above the surface of the water from the boat, but the way that they move and dive is just amazing.
The final mammal in the trio that we have seen are seals. In fact, it’s quite difficult not to see seals around Kaikoura, there are seal colonies right next to the roads in that area and all it takes is for you to stop off and take a look. You do need to be a little careful with them as they can be aggressive when they feel cornered, but it’s great to be able to see them both in and out of the water. They are as elegant as dolphins when they swim and we have seen them on a few of the trips that we have been on too.
All in all we have been exceptionally lucky with what we have seen so far, the only things that we haven’t encountered have been sea-lions, which apparently live around the south coast. I don’t think I can complain too much about that, though.