Making Friends with Dolphins in Kaikoura

I arrived at Kaikoura early on a Sunday morning after quite the Saturday night out in Chch. I was tired, hungover, and really craving some brunch. So when the dreary weather matched my mood I was happy for a reason to stay indoors.

I got off the bus and saw that Kaikoura was a tiny oceanside town with one main street lined with cafes and shops. It looked quiet, relaxed, like a perfect place to take it easy for a few days. I was happy.

That first day I did just that: relax. I treated myself to some bacon and eggs and spent the rest of the day hibernating in my low-key could-be-your-living-room hostel Sunrise Lodge, sipping on tea and planning my next moves.

Like most of NZ, Kaikoura is known for its outdoor activities, mainly seal and whale watching. So I took a chance on the weather, hoping it would clear up by the next day, and booked the morning half day tour with Kaikoura Kayaks through bookme.co.nz (a great website for discounted activities in NZ). It was a good gamble; the next day was perfect, with clear blue skies, warm sun, and barely any wind. Even our guide said we were lucky (something we would hear from him more than once). There were three of us on the tour plus our guide, so we were took out two 2-person kayaks. It was nice to have such a small group; it felt less like a tour and more like a day out with some new buddies. We took to the water and Martin and I worked together like we’d been kayak partners our whole lives. We really should enter a kayaking competition; our turns were flawless and our speed unbeatable (at least compared to the other kayak). It helped that the water was so calm that it was more like a lake than an ocean.

On our way out we encountered a pod of playful dolphins. As we approached they didn’t shy away, quite the opposite. They swam around and under our kayaks, jumping up next to us as if to lead us along, even giving our kayak a little love tap with a tail as if to say “hurry up!” We paddled around with them for a while, huge smiles on our faces, enjoying the company of our new friends. Our guide told us we were lucky (again), most tours don’t get to see many dolphins like we did. It was pretty incredible.

As we said goodbye to flipper and crew we heard a jolt of excitement from our guide’s radio: there was a whale nearby! We paddled quickly out in the direction of the whale watching boats hoping to catch a glimpse of it. That would truly be lucky, it’s pretty rare to see a whale on the kayaking tour. Unfortunately we weren’t that lucky. No whale for us. So it was off to the seals, the reason for the kayaking to begin with.

The seals weren’t quite as playful as the dolphins, keeping their distance from us, but we did get to see six of them active around us in the water (the third “you’re lucky” moment from our guide). I took my GoPro off my head – the sexy look I’d been sporting all morning – and put it in the water to get some video of them swimming around. I was fairly successful considering I couldn’t see what I was shooting.

We kayaked back to shore on the lookout for the whale, hoping to get the trifecta of sealife, but had to be satisfied with just the two. Which of course we were. It was an awesome morning.

I kept the active day going in the afternoon, taking advantage of the still gorgeous weather to bike ride out to the seal colony, stopping along the way at a long-standing seafood BBQ joint for some Paua (abalone). I hiked up to a coastal lookout and could see the mountains, the ocean, seals sprawled out below me, with cows on green pastures behind me. I laid in the grass for a while taking it all in. It was beautiful weather with beautiful views and I had nothing to do but enjoy it.

My two days in Kaikoura were perfect unwinding days before I started the two day journey back up to Rotorua in the North Island.

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