Friday, 31 October 2014

Whale watching in Kaikoura

When I left Wellington I headed south for Kaikoura which, for me, is one of the most beautiful places in the world.



The snow-capped mountains around the bay and the ocean that never seems to be out of view have a calming effect guaranteed to cure the worst cases of stress.



I walked, went rock-pooling, sat around just looking at the sea, tripped over the occasional seal and - on one cold afternoon - went to the  tiny local art-deco cinema that holds about 30 people and watched Pride. There were only four people in the audience, but it didn't matter.



Most people in Kaikoura want to interact with the wild-life, either the seals on the shore or the whales that feed in the deep ocean trenches just off shore.  I went out on the whale boat with my grandchildren, but I've become increasingly uneasy about the whole process.  We were one of two boats tracking the whales, plus a helicopter and a spotter plane.  What does this do to these animals?
Using hydrophones to find the whales
You don't have to go out on the whale boats to see the sea-life;  you just have to get lucky.  When we were standing on the wharf in Kaikoura bay before leaving, a humpback whale suddenly heaved itself up out of the water, rolling lazily around - a whale we didn't have to pay to see.  One who didn't stay to be photographed!

Kaikoura is a town built on whale bone - literally.  One of the oldest buildings, built by George Fyffe - a whaler and one of the original settlers - is built on whales' vertebrae.  The fences were also built of whale bone.
A whale's vertebra in the foundations.

The old whale-bone fences
Now the town makes a living from eco-tourism.  People come from all over the world to swim with dolphins and get within shouting distance of a whale.

New Zealand goes to great lengths to preserve its pristine environment (biological customs at the airport is an experience!), but it's not immune to what is happening in the world due to climate change.  On the road we passed long acres of dead and dying trees - not a natural phenomenon. And, further south, we stopped for lunch at St Anne's Lagoon, where there were huge notices warning of toxic algae. We were not to go anywhere near the water or handle anything that had been in it.

The road from Blenheim to Kaikoura
I'm now back in Lincoln (on the Canterbury plain not far from Christchurch) and time is running out before I have to go back to the UK and I haven't done half the things I intended to do when I came here.  But it doesn't matter. Sometimes you just have to sit back and let time flow.


5 comments:

  1. It's a wondrous thing to see whales. It shakes us out of our dailiness (is that a word?) somehow. A few weeks ago I was driving near where I live and saw a small crowd on the waterfront looking at something. And it turned out to be a humpback and her calf. Later that same week I had to take the ferry to Vancouver and saw two more swimming in Howe Sound. So lovely.

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    1. What a fantastic experience! Yes, there's something special about contact with these wonderful creatures. How lovely to live in such a beautiful environment. You are very lucky!

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  2. It's not usual in these parts, though. Or at least it hasn't been in the last few decades. But the populations are recovering and rebounding and it's so mavellous to have these sitings. You can see gray whales most springs and autumns off the west coast of Vancouver Island as they make their way to Alaska and then back to the Sea of Cortez to have their calves. But in the more local waters, it's been rare, though increasingly less so!

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  3. Oh, I meant "sightings"....(I'm not much a proof-reader...)

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    1. I'm hoping to get out to Vancouver sometime next year - want to visit the Haida Gwaii. Perhaps I will also be lucky and see some whales!

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