Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Day 2: Whale Watching in Kaikoura

Our Kaikoura whale watching trip kicked off to an ominous start. Our tour coach was over twenty minutes late, it was cold, and it was starting to rain.

John stood sentry at the roadside while I rushed back into the hostel to ring the tour company. A voice answered, interspersed with sounds of rushing vehicles. Hmm, the driver must be doing double duty. I said, "We're ready for pick-up at The Old Countryhouse."

There was a long pause, followed by, "I'm sorry, who is this?"

They'd lost our booking. We stood on the curb and shivered for another ten minutes until the coach came by for us.

Three-and-a-half hours later we were on a boat, bobbing up and down on the high seas. Kaikoura Whale Watch informed us that "the swell is a little high today," but they failed to mention it would feel like the nautical equivalent of Disney World's Space Mountain ride.

Our first two sperm whale sightings had us rushing outside the boat and watching in awe until they dove back down into the ocean. By our third whale, John was watching the computer simulated whales on the boat's large plasma TV instead. This is a state-of-the-art whale watching boat, using hydrophones to listen to and locate submerged whales. Nothing like the flimsy banca we hired on the cheap for watching dolphins in Bohol.

While I normally love rollercoasters, by the fourth whale I was feeling like an extra in The Perfect Storm, and I left my comfy seat for the fifth whale only because I realized we hadn't taken any pictures.


Organized tours do lunch at Aroma Cafe immediately after whale watching, so cafe staff are used to dazed tourists wandering in without much of an appetite. It's better than doing lunch before heading out on those boats, right? A note to future visitors: book the tour without lunch. That way you can split the gargantuan lunches with an equally seasick friend, instead of having to struggle through one on your own.

On our drive back we parked by the roadside and took pictures of these large, sleepy fur seals. All I had was a dinky point-and-shoot digital camera, so it was a toss-up between getting a decent picture and managing my irrational fear of the seal lunging into my lens. As an added bonus, at these close quarters we were enveloped in a distinctly fishy fragrance.

Midway to Christchurch we stopped for wine tasting and a sales pitch at a local vineyard, where John and I sniffed knowingly and exercised our expert wine knowledge, gleaned entirely from Sideways. I briefly considered lugging a bottle of wine all over the South Island and back to Singapore, but saving $5 just wasn't worth the risk of merlot-soaked clothes in my backpack - it's really not my color.

The rest of the trip back was quiet and uneventful... the effects of free wine samples combined with residual seasickness to lull most of the tour passengers into a nice, sound sleep.

What other people are blogging about Kaikoura and its whales...

Read the previous entry or check out the rest of this New Zealand trip series.

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