Kaikoura is uniquely situated on the edge of a deep ocean trough. This means the waters around the peninsula are rich in nutrients and teeming with life. At 9 am, after donning wetsuits and snorkeling gear, our guides took us southward to find the local dusky dolphins. We didn’t have to wait long. Not twenty minutes after leaving the dock, we were shooed of the back of the boat and into the middle of a curious pod. In order to attract their attention, we were encourage to make lots of noise, swim in circles and dive straight down. I ended up in a dizzying ballet with a crew of four dolphins right off the bat, but it sure is hard work to keep them entertained. An hour later, I was limply floating about humming opera tunes, barely getting a sideways glance.
At last, the captain gave the final signal for all of us to return to the boat. Tiffanie started pushing me towards it with urgency. At the time, I thought she was just eager to get onboard, but once we were safely on the deck, she told me she saw a giant white fin in the water. Dolphins are super mean to sharks, so the two animals are not often found in the same place. As I went through a mental list of sharks from trips to aquariums as a kid, I couldn’t think of a white one. Great whites have black fins, too big to be a tiger shark, was it a whale shark? A few minutes later, we had the chance to see the fins owner, which was definitely not a shark. It was a baby humpback whale! We watched it paddle around on its back for several minutes before heading to shore.
After all the excitement, I needed a nap on the beach. We drove a few kilometers north of the city to a small park and lay in the sun for a bit before heading back to Christchurch. After our “meh” experience in Auckland, I really didn’t think ChCh–as it’s abbreviated–would impress me much, but I was so wrong. What a neat place! We met our friend Peter at a pop-up bar called Smash Palace and learned about his work and travels. He showed us around the CBD and recommended a few places to check out before our flight in the morning. After dinner and more delightful conversation, we headed out to our last free camping spot in New Zealand.