Posted by: dammer145 | November 3, 2008

Captain, there be whales here!

Today was to be our whale watching day! We had booked our trip the day before and had to be at the Whale Watching office at 09:00. We checked ourselves in and watched a feature film on whales in the area. The main type of whales we could expect to see there were sperm whales – just off the peninsula the sea floor drops about a kilometre into a deep trench where the sperm whales find all kindsof tasty snacks – sharks, other fish and most importantly, giant squid.

Watch out behind you!

At 09:30 we boarded a bus which took us to the south side of the peninsula. We got on a purpose-built catamaran called the Aotaki along with 40 other passengers. We were introduced to the crew and shown another feature film about the surroundings as we made our way out of the marina. Soon we were on open sea and could feel the boat being tossed about in the large waves, even though it was a clear and calm day. The captain and his aides were constantly busy trying to locate whales – to find them they used radar, hydrophones, radar and constant screening of the horizon for water spouts from the whales’ breathing holes.

On board the Aotaki.

Soon the skipper had spotted a whale and set the engines to full throttle. Sperm whales can dive to depths of 1500 metres for more than an hour, so the boat had to be quick before it would dive down again. Luckily we got there on time and we were able to see the sperm whale up close and take some nice pictures. It was a small male, about 10 metres long. After about five minutes it dived down, showing us the signature tail before disappearing under water. As this whale would be down in the abyss for the coming hour or so, the captain headed back towards the coast where another whale had been spotted earlier. After a little while it surfaced with an enormous plume of water and stayed at the surface for about ten minutes while it cleared its blood of carbon dioxide.

The tail just before it dived down.

It went down again, this time the tail was a lot more in view and I was able to make some pretty pictures. One of the tour guides then announced that a large group of dusky dolphins had been seen in the area along with a juvenile humpback whale! The boat speeded off due south and there was a tangible sense of excitement on the boat. Suddenly on the port side of the boat in the distance I noticed some splashes – dolphins jumping!

We headed in that direction and as we got close we could see what was going on. In the sunshine, a young humpback was basking in the sun and playing with a large group of dolphins. Once we got close the dolphins seemed rather intrigued by the catamaran and jumped around the boat and swam underneath it. It was all quite magical and both Anouk and I felt quite touched by having seen this. Our time was unfortunately almost up and we had to head back. We felt very lucky with what we had seen – but there was more to come: on the way back we passed a group of fur seals enjoying the sunshine and a large group of albatrosses bobbing up and down on the water.


We got back to the marina and were taken back to where we started, still feeling very uplifted by what we had seen. Before setting onwards, we hit the local pie shop (The Pot Belly), who already had their christmas decorations out. I scored a bacon and egg pie and Anouk had some asparagus quiche, along with some chocolate mud cake (Anouk felt rather sorry that it took so long for her to discover mud cake as she ate every little bit of it, fingers and all).

We took road number 70 towards Hanmer Springs, a small mountain village at equal distances from the east and west coast. The road was bendy and had many sharp turns, so by the time we got there I was rather tired. Hanmer Springs is small but charming – it has some lovely spas and reputedly the best midget golf on the south island, if not in entire NZ! Once we were installed on the camping we walked up into the village and spent a couple of hours in the spa to relax and wind down from our adventure that morning and the exhausting drive. We left the spa at about 6 and headed for the local supermarket to buy ourselves some dinner. We bought pasta and prawns, however, on the way back to the camping we passed a pizza parlour called “The Pickled Pig”.

Pigs love Pizza!

Anouk first just went in to get a fruit juice. However, knowing that she would be able to tempt me, she came out with the pizza menu, which she promptly shoved under my nose. As I am sure everybody knows, I am rather a hapless victim when it comes to BBQ pizza so it didn’t take much convincing to get me inside and I ordered myself a piggy pizza. We would eat the pasta and prawns another day! Rather full we dragged ourselves back to the campsite to sit in the setting sun with a glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc so I could finish my diary for the past couple of days.


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