Our time in the South Island was drawing to a close slightly earlier than expected and we may have had just a few days to make our way to Picton. But it was still entirely possible to turn it into a bit of family fun and make it feel like a mini holiday. It felt like a chance for a little farewell to the time we have spent here in the south and all that it has given us. So we left Christchurch after a busy morning of returning uniforms, stocking up on groceries and running errands. We didn’t go far that day, we stayed at a little place called Parnassus at an NZMCA camp which in a previous life used to be a school. It’s a great spot for people like us making the drive north to the ferry and needing to break the drive up a little. We had a memorable visit to Gore bay after dinner and then hunkered down for the night so we would be ready for a bit more driving the next day.
It was just a short trip the next day to Kaikoura where we had decided to spend a night, we had loved our visits here and couldn’t resist one more night. We stayed at one of the Kaikoura coastal camps which we had pretty much to ourselves and was just lovely. With a view of the ocean out our windows and plenty of rocks to climb on and explore around it was the perfect spot for us. We did venture in to Kaikoura briefly for a visit to there museum but most of our day was spent around the bus enjoying the beach.
Stopping in Kaikoura meant that the next day we had a bit more driving to do but we had a plan to drive out to Marfells beach for a lunch stop somewhere nice to break up the day. We had heard plenty of good things about Marfells, they were all proved true when we arrived. A perfect little stretch of sand that we instantly wished we had a night to stay at. But instead we had beach views to eat our lunch and we braved the ocean for a swim before waving goodbye to our last south island beach.
Our last night was spent beside a river just north of Blenheim. Nice and quiet and most importantly just a short drive to Picton the next day for our 8am ferry crossing. Everything went smoothly the next morning with our early drive in the dark to Picton and the sun came up properly as we queued to board the ferry. By the time we were on board it was clear it was going to be a gorgeous day to cross the Cook Strait. The sea’s were calm as can be and there wasn’t even much of a breeze blowing. So we made the most of it with plenty of time outside enjoying the experience. As we watched the South Island disappear from our view I felt so grateful for the time we’ve shared here. I’ve been awed by it’s beauty on many occasions and found lots of places that are so peaceful that simply being there has done my heart good. We have about a million photo’s. A box full of rocks, shells, feathers and other treasure we’ve picked up on our adventures. Most of all we have memories, so many beautiful memories.
The weekend we had my Mum visiting we went to Kaikoura for a few nights. We hoped to have another day at the snow but the weather on Saturday just didn’t co-operate. It wasn’t really hard to fill a day in Kaikoura. We wandered through the charming little town centre. Had a walk around the rocks at Point Keam and saw a few friendly seals.
When we were planning what we wanted to do on our trip we wrote a bucket list of the things that we really wanted to do. A lot of them were little things like toasting marshmallows over an open fire and swimming in a west coast river. But we did pick a few big things to put on there that we absolutely must do. One of those things was to go whale watching but on the Saturday afternoon as we wandered around the beach and watched the wild waves smashing against the rocks it did not look hopeful that this would be our chance to do it.
Thankfully Sunday morning arrived with clear blue sky’s and much calmer seas. We had our tour booked for 1.15 so did a little more sightseeing to fill the morning. Kaikoura on a sunny day is truly beautiful, the mountains with their snowy peaks glisten in the sun and the whole place almost seems to glow with the light reflecting off the snow. Add to that the fact that everywhere you are in the town also has a view of the beach, a view of the ocean spreading endlessly out to the horizon and it is a fairly amazing combination.
When we checked in for our tour we were informed there was a sea sickness warning and though we all decided we were confident enough not to take any thing to aid in preventing motion sickness, when we were warned again at the safety briefing I did have a moment of wondering how rough it was going to be. Once we got on board and headed out of the harbour it became clear that we had struck it very lucky, we had all been out in much smaller boats in much worse conditions and coped fine so today would not be a problem. It would become clearer that we had struck it lucky in a lot of ways as we cruised around looking for whales and other wildlife to look out. We had only been cruising for around ten minutes when we slowed down to take in a pod of dusky dolphins that had come to investigate the boat. After a little while of watching them we were informed that the other boat they had out had sighted a whale so we should find something to hold onto as the boat picked up speed to reach the whale.
As we approached the other boat, a sight seeing plane circled overhead and you could see the whale spouting occasionally even from a distance. When you get closer you can only see around a third of the whales length on the surface, the rest is still submerged. It’s hard to grasp how huge these creatures actually are and even harder to get a photo that does justice for how incredible seeing them actually is. The whales come to the surface for between five to ten minutes to breath before disappearing below with one flick of their powerful tail where they will remain for around an hour. So you can watch them move around on the surface a little, see the water flying up away from their blow-hole as they breath out. And then the moment you are waiting for arrives and that gorgeous tail is up in the air for a sweet, short moment. Once that first whale dove we saw another three in quite quick succession, apparently the average to see is two whales so four felt like hitting the jackpot.
After the whales we went in search of some Hectors dolphins and found a few, though the Hectors dolphins are very rare and live in murkier water where they can hide from their predators. They were very different to the playful, friendly dolphins we have encountered before. They would approach the boat and swim under it to go past but not linger to play in the wake or swim alongside. Almost as if they were aware of there dwindling numbers and tenuous grip on existence and not willing to get to close to something as big as the boat we were in. We even got to see a few seals sunbathing on our way in and got a good view of a seal feeding in the ocean, a first for me. This day felt like the best possible way to tick whale watching off our bucket list. Oliver got to share it with his Nana, we saw an abundance of wildlife and couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. I hope all our bucket list get’s ticked off in such spectacular fashion.