After Christchurch, we headed to Kaikura for our much-anticipated dolphin swim. Kaikura, on the East coast of the South Island, is famous for its sealife and seafood.
For some reason, (I’m not sure who is responsible,) we had booked the 5.30am slot. Well actually, we booked it because this is the time when you’ll see the most dusky dolphins, as they’re heading out for their breakfast. This meant waking up at 4.15am, and packing up the tent. This was just as much fun as you can imagine it would be, and was made more enjoyable by trying to put a bikini on in the tent, in the dark. Breakfast was suggested, and I wasn’t at all hungry, but in hindsight, I’m very relived that I poked down a piece of toast….
We jumped in Simson the van, and headed to the Kaikura Dolphin Encounter Headquarters. (The venue also offers the more humorous sounding “Albatross Encounter” and intriguing “Cafe Encounter.”)
After filling out some health forms, me lying and saying I was competent at snorkelling, ho ho ho, we were ushered into the changing rooms and handed items of wetsuit, snorkels and flippers to wear.
Philine and I are both ridiculously tall so we found it absolutely hysterical trying to limber into a wetsuit designed for a much shorter person, ouch. We then sauntered sexily into the little cinema area where we all gathered and watched a briefing video. All seemed well, until at the end of the film when a staff member came through and uttered the fateful words:
“Okay! Great. We’ve been experiencing moderate swell and have had a few people suffering from sea sickness over the past few days, so I do hope you’ve all taken the appropriate medication. If not, we do have some ginger tablets for sale which might help.”
Tom and I looked at each other. We’re both hopeless when it comes to sea sickness, so I sent him off to get some ginger tablets with a great sense of foreboding.
We were all then ushered onto the bus that took us out to the water, where we boarded the boat. The boat took us out into the ocean, where we were scanning the waters for signs of the dusky dolphins. The sun was just coming up, and the boat was bopping all over the place in the waves. We saw lots of albatrosses, which were amazing. I’ve never seen them before; gigantic seagulls, about the size of a dog with a six foot wingspan. They were huge and fascinating. I loved watching them dive into the sea for their breakfasts, and how they just bobbed about on the waves, clearly completely unfazed by the “moderate swell.” We were then advised that once we’d swam, the blankets provided wouldn’t keep us warm if we didn’t get our wetsuits off first. I was like “well durrrrr” but little did I know…
The boat then let out a huge horn blast, signalling dolphins had been spotted and it was time to get in the water. I crammed my snorkel on, and whilst the lady was checking I’d fitted it properly, I saw dolphins doing backflips out of the water, it was so exciting! We made our way to the back of the boat and flopped into the water. It. Was. So. Fucking. Cold.
I stayed close to Tom. Everyone looks exactly the same with their wetsuit hat and snorkel on, but luckily Tom’s beard made him easier to identify. He had to put some vaseline in his moustache before we hit the water. I thought this was so his little face didn’t get cold, but it was actually to create a better seal with the snorkel. Haha.
Anyway. We hit the water and there were dolphins everywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of them swimming around us, circling and leaping out of the water. It was at the same time completely amazing and completely overwhelming. I was shocked from the cold of the water and also panicked by the waves and the snorkel so I had a little hyperventilating episode and then sorted myself out. Once I had recovered, I put my head under the water and there were beautiful dolphins everywhere. I started to sing through my snorkel to them (don’t worry reader, I hadn’t gone completely insane, we had been advised that this would get their attention.)
As I sang, the dolphins came right up to me, looked me right in the eye, circled me a few times and then headed off. It was too awesome to put into words. As I raised my head I could see the little guys jumping around. They don’t just leap out of the water, they do full on summersaults and backflips, slapping down into the waves. It was absolutely incredible!! After a while, the dolphin pod lost interest in us mere humans and headed off for some more breakfast.
The horn on the boat went, signalling us to come back onboard. I made my way back to the boat, tried to pull myself up and then abruptly fell back off again which made Kerry laugh. There seems to be a running theme on this trip of humiliation every time I go near a snorkel! I had a bright red float with me, which made me look even more silly. Anyway, I finally got on and we headed off to find the next group of dolphins. I was feeling pretty panicked by the waves and the snorkel, but managed to calm myself a bit. All the while a creeping feeling of nausea came over me…
(Looking a wee bit worse for wear…)
The horn blew again and off we went. More amazing dolphins, we must have seen at least 800 dolphins all together. I kept taking deep breaths and daring myself to put my head under the water. Every time I did, there were dolphins everywhere. Beautiful. Unfortunately my body began fighting the waves and I felt sicker until I was just clinging to my float, staring into the water telling myself “don’t be sick, don’t be sick, don’t be sick.”
Finally the horn blew, and I made my way back. Back on the ship I identified Philine sitting opposite me (not easy with those masks on) I slapped my way across to her in my flippers, clinging to anything to keep me upright. The boat was bopping and lurching so much. I heaved myself next to her saying “oh my god I feel soooooo sick.” to which Philine replied “I’ve just been sick three times in the sea.”
Somehow Philine went out again, as did all the rest of the group except me and another English girl who was feeling ill. Then it happened.
I was very sick into a bucket. After a while, the crew member said “we’ve got one coming home!” I replied, “Does he have a beard? If he does it’s my one.” She said no.
Then everyone started coming back and the girl goes “Oh look, there’s the beard!” I saw Tom on the other side of the boat looking very sick and with a huge bogey hanging out of his nose. I said “yep! That one’s mine!” Anyway, to cut a long story short, the rest of the trip was spent violently being ill into a bucket. Tom was doing it. Philine was doing it. People were being sick everywhere. Luckily they had enough buckets for everyone.
Kerry, however, was absolutely fine, sat around, smiling at everyone and drinking chicken soup. To do him credit, he did manage to take some photos and videos, which is really lucky, as the rest of us were in no state to manage it. I felt so sick that I couldn’t get my wetsuit off, to get my clothes on and warmed up, and I couldn’t get back inside. Philine was in the same state so we just sat there shaking with the cold, head in buckets, rubbing eachothers backs and waiting for it to be over. I’ve never been so cold, or felt so ill in my entire life.
I was delighted to be on dry land. We decided to rename the morning from the “Dolphin Encounter” to the “Dolphin and Sick Encounter.” And a “moderate swell”?! I don’t even want to imagine what a “major swell” would have been like!
Travelling is a funny old thing. One moment you’re nearly crying in awe of these beautiful intelligent animals, and the next your body is up shit creek without a paddle. But I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.