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Entries about south island

Have you ever sung to a dolphin through a snorkel?

Wetsuits, snorkels, and singing with dolphins.

Kaikoura has an abundance of sea life just off the coast, and there's lots of opportunities to view them or even get up close and personal! Last time I was in Kaikoura I went whale watching, wandering with seals, and through the lavender gardens, this time I had the chance to check out some dusky dolphins...

The day started with the van picking us up at 5am. Ouch. After getting kitted up with mask/snorkel, wetsuit, fins, etc we watched an introductory video about the dolphins and safety.

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Dusky dolphins are generally the most acrobatic of the dolphins and luckily hang out near Kaikoura all year long. Encounter Kaikoura has been in business for over 20 years, and they have all sorts of permits specifying and limiting how many people can be in the water with the dolphins and how many tours they can do. They don't feed the dolphins or encourage them in any way.

They have a general idea of where the dolphins will be hanging out and 'socializing' when we head out on the water, but it takes some time to actually find them. Luckily it was a beautiful, relatively calm, day and the scenery was spectacular. Unlike bottlenose dolphins (and my general thoughts on dolphins) these guys don't have specific pods that they stick too, so you never know how many you'll actually see in one area.

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For awhile I was just on deck, watching as everyone else hopped in the water. They told us that we were here to entertain the dolphins. The dolphins didn't have to stick around, they could swim away. There was nothing keeping them there aside from their curiosity, so we had to try to be engaging to keep them around. They suggested diving down, trying to swim with them, (they're so fast though!) and also suggested singing to them. Dolphins live and communicate in a world of sound, so that makes sense. Also it's amazingly entertaining for everyone else around when you try to sing through a snorkel underwater...

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After awhile it was my turn to get in the water. I'm not sure how cold the water actually was, but I'd say it's the coldest water I've ever been swimming in! The visibility wasn't the greatest, so you couldn't always see the dolphins coming, and then all of a sudden, one would swim by! They'd usually do a circle around you to check you out, before continuing on, or sticking around for another circle. They certainly weren't afraid of us, and didn't mind getting real close.

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I didn't know whether to look under the water or above the surface!
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They were so quick of course, I just kind of waved my camera around and hoped I got a picture of one. Compared to the slow swim of the Minke Whales, there was no waiting for these guys to stop for a photo!

I did take two videos that I might as well post, but I'm spinning in circles for the first one, so try not to get dizzy with me! The second one is a little shorter and maybe better. I think I'm talking to the dolphins too, or just making random sounds anyway.

In the end everyone was cold, and some were starting to get seasick so after stopping just to view a large pod of maybe 200 dolphins, we headed back to shore. The jumps and flips always make the dolphins look like they're playing and having fun, and it was neat to be in the water trying to play with them too. I wonder what they thought of us...

Posted by smr1188 17:25 Archived in New Zealand Tagged animals boats ocean wildlife tours new_zealand swimming south_island Comments (3)

Tramping in Hooker Valley

...It may not be what you're thinking.

Before friends and family begin to wonder just what I'm posting here, I'll clarity, in New Zealand hiking is called 'tramping', as you'll see in the pictures. And Hooker Valley, well, it's an awesome valley in the Mount Cook National Park that has gorgeous views of Mount Cook and Hooker Glacier. Add in some swing bridges, and you've got a popular hiking trail.

We tried to get an early start to drive up to the park and beat the crowds, but there was gorgeous landscapes so we stopped several times!
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The parking lot was in the valley and we were absolutely surrounded by mountains and snow...how great to see snow!
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Now I'm just going to post a lot of pictures, (I didn't do a good job of picking just a few favorites) it was a gorgeous walk in and over the bridges, though VERY windy!
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There were icebergs on the lake and shoreline, that was very cool (no pun intended!).

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I took a side hike over to the Tasman Glacier, complements of my friend Dennis recommending I check it out, turns out it's not the prettiest of glaciers, but it had great views of the valley.
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Driving back after our walk, we drove along Lake Pukaki, another gorgeous lake.
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At the end we headed to Lake Tekapo, and yes, the lake is actually that color. There's 'rock flour' sediments suspended in the glacial fed waters that reflect the light and give it that color.
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Posted by smr1188 14:49 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hiking new_zealand roadtrip south_island Comments (2)

9' of Awesome

And add some sea lions, and you've got a great day!

First stop, sea lion beach...

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At first there were none, and we had limited time before our next tour, so we were giving up hope and turning back, when all of a sudden we see...

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He proceeds up the beach...

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To his friend, they say some words like, 'hey wake up!" and "my nose is taller than yours!"

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Then they headed back to the water together. How cute!

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Then we went to see some Royal Albatross. New Zealand has the only mainland breeding ground for Royal Albatross, and it was amazing to see them and watch them. There were some nests close to the viewing platform (enclosed in glass that had a coating on it so the birds couldn't see us and weren't disturbed). The chicks take up to a year before they're grown and head out on their own, they then spend 3-4 YEARS at sea, basically circumnavigating Antarctic. AND they have a 9' wingspan!

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After spending so many years at sea, they return to the Otago Peninsula to find a mate. At this point they're considered "teenagers" and they need to learn how to fly over land now, the air currents are different and you can see them wobble as they fly over the shoreline.

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They need wind to take off, so they'll walk to the edge of the cliff before taking off. This couple greeted each other, fixed the nest, then the one that had been out fishing took over the nest watch and the other one headed out to the sea.
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What an opportunity to see these birds (and the rare sea lions)! I love New Zealand!

Posted by smr1188 18:14 Archived in New Zealand Tagged wildlife new_zealand roadtrip south_island Comments (2)

Penguins. Times two.

When in New Zealand...GO SEE PENGUINS!

What are we doing this afternoon we wondered as we headed into town...after a quick stop at the information center, we'd decided and booked a penguin tour!

We drove out to the Otago Peninsula, on a very narrow winding road, with no guardrails!

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We arrived at the Penguin Place and learned a bunch about the rare yellow-eyed penguins that we were hoping to see. The land they are currently nesting on was private farmland that has been converted back to penguin land (regrown and protected). Yellow-eyed penguins are unique in that they are the only penguins that are "anti-social"...they are shy and don't want to see other penguins (aside from their mate) when they're nesting. There's a lot of threats to these penguins, they're the rarest of the 18 species of penguins.

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Penguin trenches are underground throughout here with lots of nesting boxes...
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Penguin Trenches
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Since these birds are anti-social and so shy, we had to be silent and hidden when viewing them. The property has built 'trenches' for people to walk in, undetected from the penguins. These are covered with greenery and level enough the penguins can walk right over undisturbed. There are "viewing rooms" that have slits looking out, that are below penguin eye level so we seem small if they notice.

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We were amazingly lucky and there were 2 penguins right near the viewing room, even a chick! This baby was 42 days old and was adorable.

We were so close to him!
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They get the yellow stripe from the fish they eat as they grow up, and it can be a good indication of how healthy their diet is. The nesting boxes provide shelter and protection for the penguins.

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Despite our thoughts of the water being cold, the penguins actually get hot swimming and fishing all day and will air their wings out to cool down when they are back on land. They're also surprisingly good at climbing, this was way up on a big hill!
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We loved this tour so much, and would definitely recommend The Penguin Place for yellow-eyed penguin tours!
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We loved seeing penguins so much, we splurged and stuck around for another penguin tour down the road, to see the Little Blue Penguins!
These penguins are only 13" tall! They spend all day fishing at sea and come home at dark, in groups. They're hard to photograph as flashes blind them, so I have tons of blurry little penguin pictures. Adorable!

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If only I could bring some penguins home...

Posted by smr1188 13:48 Archived in New Zealand Tagged wildlife new_zealand roadtrip south_island Comments (2)

The Edge of the World

Well, actually the Southern edge of NZ

Driving along the southern coast of the South Island of New Zealand, we encountered some sheep and helped herd them with our car!
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We stopped in the town that is the farthest south on the South Island, Bluff, for some classic pictures.
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Then we drove along a dirt road, for quite some time, to get to the 'real' southern most point of the South Island...
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We also drove up to a lookout (as opposed to hiking an hour up...we've gotten lazy with a car!) and got to watch a storm come in :)
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Bluff lookout

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The next day, we drove through The Catlins, which had several pretty waterfalls. One claimed to be the "most photographed"...I wonder how many more pictures are taken when one is labeled as the "most photographed...

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There was also a cool lighthouse we stopped at called Nugget Point (named after the rocks sticking up out of the water).
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We made some friends, borrowed some binoculars, and even saw some birds and seals below!
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Posted by smr1188 13:46 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand roadtrip south_island Comments (0)

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