Sunday, 23 December 2012

New Zealand Part 4: Kaikoura

Kaikoura (click to enlarge) 

So for the final leg of my short trip, I headed over to Kaikoura for some more wildlife-watching and photography, via a lovely bay called Birdlings Flat.

The beach at Birdlings Flat (yes I got my feet wet).

Terns wheeling in the sunlight under the cliffs

Kaikoura is a little town on the east coast, but what makes it interesting from a marine point of view is the fact that the continental shelf edge lies very close to shore, so it's possible to get out into very deep water without having to travel very far. The consequence for this for wildlife is that you get a lot of oceanic and pelagic species close in to the coast so you can go out and see whales, dolphin and albatross without having to spend a whole day on the sea. Not that I would mind, but short trips are usually better for casual tourists, and the tour operators certainly make the most out of the commercial opportunities...

One of several whale-watching boats operating out of Akaroa.

The sperm whale's tail as it dives into the depths.

The boat trip in Akaroa with the Hector's dolphins was a really good one - the skipper and crew were dead friendly and provided us with a load of information about the dolphins, which were billed as the star attractions really, but then took us further on and told us all stories about the geology, local culture and went out of their way to find us more wildlife to see, pointing out all the seabirds as we passed. In Kaikoura, you have the choice of three tours - one for whales, one for dolphins and one for albatrosses. I went on the whale and albatross boats though the whale trip was a wee bit disappointing.

The sperm whale surfacing to recover itself after its deep dive to hunt.

Sperm whale snot!

We did see a sperm whale though and while the guides were very knowledgeable about the whales and told us a lot about their lifestyle and the habitat, they didn't make any real effort to show us anything else or tell us about the other wildlife in the region, even with loads of birds flying past us while we waited for the whale to resurface. It was certainly ok, but I would argue it probably wasn't worth the money in the winter months. Maybe when the humpbacks etc. come back in the summer they have busier trips, but as it was, it was a long time to sit on a boat waiting for a single whale!

A fairy petrel

A sooty shearwater

A great petrel
Terns nesting on the shore

The 'Albatross Encounter' was better and took us out as a far smaller group (there were only six of us on board). The skipper knew his stuff and kept moving us around to find the different species and made sure to help us get the best photographic opportunities as well which was cool. From my point of view, this was the first time I'd seen an albatross (and yes, they are MASSIVE!) and it was probably one of the best opportunities I've seen to get good images of pelagic birds. Usually to see petrels and shearwaters, you need to be far out at sea, which generally means you're on a big ship and elevated pretty far above the water. To be on a small vessel so really close to the water's surface was great (if a bit rolly!) and was brilliant for the photography.

We even came across a pod of dusky dolphins

Dusky dolphins swimming by the boat

Back on shore, Kaikoura has some gorgeous scenery and a beautiful coastline, where you can find plenty more coastal birds and seals if you spend a little time looking for them:

A dead tree on the shore at Kaikoura

A heron feeding in the rockpools

Sadly, Kaikoura was the last stop on my trip and after another short three days it was time to catch the ferry again and head home. All in all, I only managed to see a tiny part of New Zealand, but it is such a beautiful country I have no doubt I'll be going back again sometime (whenever I feel like I can face that horrendous flight again!) to see some more of the country and do a spot of diving!

Hope you all have an excellent break over Christmas and a brilliant New Year! See you all in 2013!

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