Posted by: dammer145 | November 2, 2008

Kaikoura, home of the Whales

We got up rather late and made our way off the camping by about ten o’clock. We filled up the camper on diesel, bought some breakfast at the bakkerij [sic] and soon we were on our way southwards towards Kaikoura, the whale watching capital of NZ!

We passed through the enormous vineyards of Marlborough country, where various types of grapes are grown, predominantly sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir. We stopped at one of the wineries to have a quick look, but didn’t buy or taste anything.

Further on, the road met the Pacific Ocean. The last half of our trip down took us down a winding road past the water. We stopped for coffee and cake at a place called the Pacific Pavillion – a lovely cafe on the (black and volcanic) beach. After having had a “long black” and a “flat white”, we walked down the beach for ten minutes. In those ten minutes we found some rather indistinct bones of some or other mammal and a dead, washed-up juvenile shark.

The Southern Pacific towards the Antarctic.

It wasn’t long before we arrived in Kaikoura at about 2 o’clock. Kaikoura is situated on a peninsula that sticks out of the mainland (the locals like to say it sticks out like a whale’s tail). This causes the north side to be rather sheltered from rain and wind that comes in from the Pacific to the south. We had a brief lunch and then set out on a 12km walk that would take us all the way around the peninsula. Along the way we stopped to taste the local specialty: crayfish. The name “Kaikoura” actually means “tasty crayfish” in Maori. We passed a seal colony, saw some spectacular sights over the ocean and even saw a couple of local blue penguins. We got back to the camping at about seven o’clock.

Om nom nom.

I had been trying to figure out the southern sky for a couple of nights. Anouk discovered that there were sky watching tours in Kaikoura so we went to have a look. We had to be at the local tourist office at 21:15, where we were picked up by a guy called Hussein, along with another five or six other people. He took us out of town into a field in the middle of the peninsula, away from any light pollution that the town was generating. In the middle of the field Hussein had installed a powerful 8-inch telescope. Soon we were exploring the craters of the moon and having a look at Jupiter and Venus. Hussein explained how to find the Southern Cross, the constellation that can be found in the NZ flag and which has been used for thousands of years to find south in the southern sky. He showed us the Magellanic Clouds, two satellite galaxies of our own Milky Way, clearly visible in NZ. Binoculars were passed around, allowing close-up views of all kinds of objects that seem faint or unclear to the naked eye. A great evening and we both learned a lot!

We were dropped off at the tourist office and made our way back to the camping.

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