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South Island Road Trip * day eleven * Kaikoura

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Way back in April we took a twelve day road trip across New Zealand's South Island. It was remarkable.
I have been struggling to finish up the blog series... possibly because I am still not ready for it to be over. 

Kaikoura was a little bit of an "add on" to our road trip. We hadn't planned to be here, but though it would be a good idea to find a destination a little bit closer to Picton (and the ferry terminal) for our last two nights on the South Island. It ended up being (debatably) the favorite stop on our whole trip. I was without questions the place where we saw the coolest display of wildlife - perhaps ever (more on that tomorrow). The landscape was breathtaking oceans, mountains, cliffs, greens, browns, blues, greys ... beauty everywhere.

We woke up and had breakfast with a view. At "the point" and saw seals playing in a lagoon... two thousand photos later, we took a nice hike and got a glorious view of the peninsula (and another seal colony). We would have limited the number of seal photos, had we know what the following day would hold (more on that next time).

We went home for lunch and then hopped in the car for "another drive". Ben dropped Max, Maggie and me off for a whale watching excursion. It was quite an exciting surprise for our animal loving big kids. For the past ten days (as we discussed our itinerary for the remainder of the trip) we had been emphatically reassuring the kids that we would NOT be seeing whales on this trip. But as we read more about Kaikoura, we had a last minute change of heart. It was a good decision.

We had the most informative and well educated guide who taught us about lots of different kinds of whales (most of which I didn't know existed). But the most interesting part of the trip was the video they showed about why Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to see whales. Whales thrive close to Kaikoura because of its unusual submarine landscape. The continental shelf drops quickly into a number of extremely deep underwater canyons. In addition, a warm current from the north meets a colder one from the south. This causes nutrients from deep within the ocean to be carried upward, a phenomenon that helps to support all types of marine life from plankton and krill to dolphins and whales (source).

I wish I had a copy of the video... it was so cool. They hypothetically drained out all the water and then took the viewer on a tour through the canyon... showing different recognizable landmarks (like the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House) to show the depth and breadth... also showing the vastly diverse sea life and the depths where they were capable of diving. It was fascinating. There was a lively discussion with our guide after the video. Everyone had lot of questions that he easily and enthusiastically answered.

We were in the front row and once the questions died down, I complemented our guide on his "mad skills". He was a humble, youngish guy who knew a lot about his vocation. You could tell that he was passionate about whales and had a deep respect for their habitat and history. I imagine the industry can get a bit tiresome... tourists with the same questions, day in and day out. But this guy was a real professional. He took his responsibility seriously... and as a result me and my kids have a new found appreciation for whales and their habitat. Well done Te Auhia Solomon.

As we talked I learned that Te Auhia is the son of Bill Solomon, the visionary founder of Whale Watch Kaikoura. In 1987 he and his wife mortgaged their house and subsequently revived the local economy with the introduction of the whale watching industry. Amazing story. I would highly recommend Whale Watch Kaikoura to anyone considering a trip to the South Island. Good people.

The best meal I have had in New Zealand was from THIS little seafood stand on the last official night of our South Island road trip. It was a perfect evening filled with sunset seafood and hut building family time. We loved you Kaikoura!

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