We had to be in Kaikoura by 12:45 for our Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura. We estimated it would take 4.5 to 5 hours to get there, including stopping for gas/bathroom breaks, so we realized we would need to be up at 6:00 to leave at 7:00… As we were packing the car, Grey Kitty came by to wish us farewell. We gave her a few good pets and then she scampered off into the bushes. It was clear on the way back to Blenheim, but as we got into the Awatere valley, it turned to lots of rain and clouds… As we drove, we came across several cars pulled over on the side of the road; they were looking at the many fur seals scattered over the rocks. I think this was the Ohau Point lookout… There were several very close to the lookout, including one who scratched himself lazily with his flipper for a good 2 minutes.
Here’s a video of the seals:
We continued on to Kaikoura and made it there at 11:15, plenty of time to eat lunch. I was disappointed that it was so rainy and cloudy that we couldn’t see the mountains or the rolling hills that Kaikoura is famous for. The weather was just as lousy in town as it had been on the way there.
We paid for parking (50 cents for an hour) in the town center and looked at a couple of restaurant menus, but nothing enticed us. I checked the guidebook and it recommended the cafe in the Dolphin Encounter building, so we drove there for lunch. Marc had the open-faced steak and bacon sandwich with onion jam and a salad ($17) and I had the brie, “bacon” (Canadian bacon) and onion jam panini with a salad ($13). Marc had a Chai latte ($4) so lunch came to $35. It was above average but not fantastic.
After lunch we checked in at Dolphin Encounters for our dolphin swim. We’d been watching the board which advised that there was a moderate sea sickness warning for our swim. Marc decided because of the weather that he didn’t want to swim, and when I asked if he could “downgrade” to being a spectator, they really tried to talk us out of it. I said he suffers from seasickness, although he doesn’t, and they offered to sell us seasickness tabs. Eventually, she had to talk to a manager to see if we could be downgraded and eventually we were able to. The cost of the dolphin swim was $160 but the spectators only pay $85.
Next I was suited up in a full-body wetsuit and fitted with flippers. Someone in the changing room who was coming back from an earlier trip said it was very choppy out on the water and that many people (including her) had been seasick. I was glad I had remembered to put on a Transderm patch earlier, and hoped it would take effect since I had only put it on a couple of hours ago. Next we watched a safety briefing that quite funny in a few places (for example, it’s better to slide into the water than to bellyflop from the boat, and that some swimmers have a swimming style that looks like they are in distress). Then we were off on a bus that would take us to the boat.
On the boat, it became quite apparent that the swells were really high. Looking out the side of the boat, at times I couldn’t even see the water. I know if I hadn’t had on my Transderm that I would have been literally sea sick, but thanks to the patch I managed to only feel seasick without throwing up. Everyone made it out without any puking. It took FOREVER to get to a pod of dolphins because they don’t use any equipment to spot them, other than the eye. Finally after about 45 min, we were called to the back of the boat and we sat on the steps and waited for the horn to blow which was our signal for when we could slip into the water. There were about 15 people swimming. The water was extremely choppy still. As we were seated, the boat took off again, sending cold water splashing over our exposed ankles. A few minutes later, it stopped again, then took off again, then finally stopped and the horn blew.
We had been advised to make “dolphin noises” and to “sing to the dolphins” to draw their attention to us. As one swam up to me, I did this and he whipped around me. I started turning in circles as fast as I could, humming my “dolphin song” and he whipped around me, challenging me to match him. It was a really amazing thing. Over and over again, dolphins would swim by me, and some would just do a quick “swim-by” to check me out, and some (sometimes 2-3 at a time) would swim in circles around me as I spun as quick as I could to keep up. The waves were so high I kept getting seawater down my snorkel, and at one point my mask started leaking, but we had 3 different “dips” with the dolphins and it was so much fun. During the third “dip” people went back early but I stayed in the water until the horn blew.
Pictures don’t really do this experience any justice, so here’s some videos of the dolphins. This one shows the swimmers in the water with the dolphins jumping around us. It also shows how choppy the water was!
In this video they are showing off! Lots of flips and dives. They are so amazing!
This video isn’t mine, but it’s a great video of the dolphins UNDER the water! We really have to get a waterproof video camera… This is an awesome video:
Back on the boat, several of the swimmers were puking into their buckets. Being in the water contributed to the feeling of seasickness, and accidentally drinking all that salt water didn’t help… Then we tried to get into our regular clothes with the extreme rocking of the boat… Now was the time for the spectators. They were out on the bow, watching dolphins swim underneath. I managed to get into my clothes and also managed not to throw up. Many swimmers were miserable on the ride back, clutching their buckets and not moving. I was extremely cold even in my layers and couldn’t wait to check into the hotel and take a hot shower. I nursed a cup of hot chocolate and wolfed down some ginger cookies.
I think the Dolphin Encounter was worth the price, but as someone said on the boat, it was an amazing and a horrible experience all at the same time… For those who suffer from seasickness, be prepared to have to vomit in front of strangers, or, get a prescription for Transderm patches. Also it helps if you’ve snorkeled before and are comfortable in the water, especially cold water, so you definitely need to be able to swim.
We got to the motel at around 5:00 pm. We stayed at Bay Cottages. The owner greeted us and showed us to our cottage. He asked if we had any questions about the area and we asked for a recommendation for dinner. He recommended a place called “Tuti’s.” Marc wanted to get crayfish. As we were chatting, a ginger tabby showed up; his name was Pedro. He was a very sweet kitty, who accepted being settled into my lap, where he sat for a good 5 minutes enjoying lots of pets and kisses. The cottage cost $100 a night and it had a kitchenette, queen bed, two singles and bathroom. I took my hot shower while Marc immediately fell asleep. As he slept, I walked down to the beach which was right across from the cottage. It was a dark gravel/sand beach. The clouds hadn’t cleared yet and so the view was limited.
I went back and woke up Marc. We called Tuti’s Restaurant and made a reservation for 7:00. We got there and it was a nice place inside, warm, inviting, etc. We had the salmon cakes for an appetizer, which were a bit too crunchy on the outside, but we got 4 of them for $15 and they were a decent size. For dinner, Marc had the 1/2 crayfish with mashed potatoes and veg ($60). I had the lamb shank in “Tuti’s Sauce” for $28. Mine also came with mash and veg. The lamb was quite good, very tender, and the sauce was a rich tomato based sauce with a hint of spice. Marc decimated his crayfish, pulling meat out of every little crevice. I think it was the first time he finished his dinner after me… Marc had a Black Mac beer for dinner and for dessert we had the sticky toffee and plum pudding with butterscotch sauce ($10) and it was also really good. Dinner came to $122, yikes!
It also took a long time for anyone to wait on us, for the appetizers to arrive, for the drinks to arrive, and we had to finally ask for our check, but I’ve noticed this tends to be the way things go in all of the restaurants we’ve been to. Normally this doesn’t bother me, but tonight we were sooo tired.We went back to the hotel and crashed, the owner of the cottages had advised us to leave 2.5 – 3 hours early for the airport, and our flight out of Christchurch was at 12:40. I tried to talk Marc into us leaving at 9:00, but he thought we should leave at 8:00 to be safe.