The title sounds like an elementary school “What I Did Over the Summer” essay, but Kaikoura has some pretty cool stuff. In this video, I put together several of my photos and videos from flying a plane, seeing seals and swimming with dolphins. Stories from Kaikoura follow below.
I once posted a picture from a day trip to Kaikoura toward the beginning of September where I was sitting in the front seat of a plane. Here’s how that happened:
One of the major sightseeing opportunities in Kaikoura is whale watching, and the best way to see a whale is via flight. My housemate and I decided to join Wings Over Whales, a which takes visitors up over the Pacific Ocean to look for whales. Before we boarded the plane, we received instructions from the pilot on where to sit.
Toward the end of his instructions, the pilot said, “There is a seat at the front of the plane next to me….The person who will sit there is the first person to raise their hand.”
About four people shot their hands up, including me.
Somehow, I beat everybody else.
I figure this is where being a teacher came in handy. As soon as he began explaining there was a front seat available, I anticipated that we would need to do something like raise our hands quickly. When he said the line, I was ready, just like one of my eighth graders who would wait for me to say the “go” word, the word that I would say to enable them to get out of their seats and go to the shop or greenhouse. (Once, it was “tomato.”)
So I was able to sit in the front of the plane. Simply flying in a small plane marked off an item from my bucket list for New Zealand, but sitting in the front was a dream come true. I’d wanted to sit in the front of a plane for a long time.
That day trip completely turned my plans around. I had considered traveling to Australia when calving season ended, but after the day trip, I saw Kaikoura was the place I truly wanted to go. So I booked a room at a hostel for the first week of October and headed there once I was done at the dairy farm.
That’s been one of the neatest aspect of traveling without a whole lot of plans: I can change them based on feedback and stories I hear throughout my travels. I can take hold of opportunities that come up more easily than I could if I had plans locked in.
This time in Kaikoura, I was able to soak it in and participate in many cool and life changing experiences, such as flying a plane and swimming with dolphins. I also went whale watching again. I met some cool people through staying at the hostel, which was a great experience. There were musical instruments and books in the common area, and one night, I picked up a 1975 New Zealand atlas and soaked it in. There were many written descriptions on topics such as geology and soils and industry. I studied the maps most of all. There were hundreds of them on every topic you could ever want: average rainfall, location of fauna, soil types, “average number of days in which thunder is heard,” population, and on and on. This beautiful book also included photographs, such as a two-page spread of an overhead shot of the Canterbury Plains, the area from which I had just moved.
One of the species of fauna the atlas featured was the dusky dolphin. These miniature dolphins are found in Kaikoura, and visitors can see them up close by traveling off the coast with Encounter Kaikoura. The organization is focused on conservation and education. Our tour guide emphasized that swimming with the dolphins only occurs when the dolphins are receptive and the environment is safe. The purpose is to show the swimmers how magnificent wildlife is in its natural habitat. No harm comes to the dolphins.
Our boat took us offshore, and we searched for dolphins who wanted to play. When we found them, we slid into the water in our wet suits and snorkel gear. It was freezing, something I didn’t expect, and I gasped for air at first. I’d always thought of the Pacific Ocean as warm 24/7 (perhaps it’s because California is on the Pacific Ocean). But the cold soon slipped from my mind as the first dolphin fins appeared beneath me.
After we had swum with the dolphins for nearly an hour, we climbed aboard for a hot shower and hot chocolate. Then, we rode alongside the dolphins back to shore. They rode the waves, barrel racing the boats, and then…
That is my favorite photo from the Dolphin Encounter. I was standing on the top deck of the boat, shooting blind. I could barely see the dolphins through my camera and didn’t want to miss anything, so I watched the magnificent creatures jump out of the water and pressed the shutter as often as I could. I only saw what I had captured through my lens that night as I reviewed the photos on my laptop.
So that was my experience in Kaikoura, something I’m sure I’ll talk about for years.