A Whale of a Tail

We left Waitomo, both glad we had come to see the glow worms and very apprehensive about the trip ahead. It wasn’t because the driving from Waitomo to Kaikōura was particularly difficult; it was because it involved another ferry crossing to get from the North Island to the South Island. We were both feeling a bit of PTSD from the last time across and had no real desire to repeat that experience.

The drive to Wellington was easy peasy. We got to our hotel at a reasonable hour and determined it was a great location for the morning. It was a basic serviced apartment, but it was nice and it had a Nespresso machine! Yeah! We would at least have coffee on board for the ferry ride. A lot of the restaurants were closed on Sunday, but we found a pretty nice place in the DoubleTree hotel. The food was good and it had the advantage of being very close to us. We headed back to the hotel and I checked the weather. Bummer. It was going to be blowing 20 to 25 knots and the seas were expected to be rough. I chose not to relay this information to Susanne.

We had learned from the last time in Wellington that there wasn’t really any point in getting in the ferry queue super early, especially since we had our own cabin. We had our coffee and headed over to the ferry with about 20 minutes to spare before the one-hour ahead of departure check-in cutoff.

The wind was howling. Bummer. I decided to share the information about the rough seas with Susanne so she could decide whether to take a Dramamine or not. She chose to put some meds on board. We got on board and found our cabin. It was way mo betta than not having a cabin. Plus the ferry was packed because it was a holiday commemorating the Queen.

Our swanky quarters

We headed out from Welly and as we started to round the corner out of the harbor and into the Cook Strait, you could feel the swell start to pick up. Rut Roh. It built for a while and then all of a sudden it just kind of calmed down. Looking out the porthole, the seas were still pretty darn rough, but it wasn’t that bad in the ferry. It made me realize just how god awful rough it was on the last crossing. The seas must have been huge. We listened to some pod casts and before we knew it, we were in Picton. Yeah!!! All that the dread and anxiety for nothing. We cruised all the way to Kaikōura without incident.

Our Airbnb

The Airbnb we rented was a lovely updated carriage house that was at the end of a road at the base of the mountains and with a wonderful view down toward the Kaikōura peninsula. We unloaded our stuff and just marveled at the views from our place. The mountains still had a lot of snow on them, so it was a surreal view.

I had such fond memories of stopping at the little crayfish stands and eating crayfish with the amazing views, so we headed out to the get some crayfish (crayfish=lobster in Kiwi). The weather was supposed to be good, so I suggested we stop in and sign up for a whale watching trip. We got to the place and they were pretty rude and told us to sign up online. Sure, whatever.

Yummy koura!

We headed to a fish market and decided we would take the crayfish back with us to the house. I had in my mind they were still cheap like they used to be so I got the server to pull two big ones out for us. She weighed them and informed it would be $280. Yikes! We opted to just get 1, but that still set us back $130. Thank dog for a good exchange rate! We headed back to the house and I warmed them on the grill and Susanne made some garlic butter. It was really decadent but we deserved it. Not sure why, but we did. I also got us booked for the 12:45 whale watching cruise the next day. All in all, it had been a good and uneventful day.

Kaikōura evidently mean “Crayfish food” in Maōri (kai=food and kōura=crayfish) and it is the crayfish capital of New Zealand. But beyond that tasty treat, the mountains impinge right onto the ocean creating one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen in my life.

Absolutely stunning

We did the Mt. Fyffe Forest Walk, which was a short tramp just behind the house in the morning. We were expecting some amazing views, but we got squat. It was a nice forest hike, but it’s Kaikōura, we wanted views damn it. When it was time we headed down to the whale watch place to check in. There was a message on the board that the trip was waiting for “the captain’s call.” Shortly thereafter the call came in and the trip was cancelled because the whales had moved off shore too far. Bummer. Thursday was supposed to be pretty good too, so we asked the lady at the desk to rebook us for that day. She said no problemo. Yeah!

Since there were no whales to be had that day, we drove out to the end of the peninsula and did a walk along the shore. Craig, our airbnb host, had warned us to be careful because it was easy to accidentally step on a seal out there. Yeah, right. Seriously? Right away there were seals to be seen. I was heading out to get a picture of one and almost stumbled over another. Doh. Should have listened to Craig. It was a lovely walk and the sea and bird life was everywhere.

Luckily the first two days had been nice because the next day it just pissed with rain all day. Bummer. It was a bit of a boring day to say the least, but at this point in our New Zealand experience, we are getting used to it.

A boring day of watching Milford Sound Sheets of Rain come down

We got up the next morning and it did appear that the weather was going to improve. As we drank our coffee, it got better and better. Yeah! We were going to get to go see the whales after all. We drove down to the whale watching place and went to check in. Yet another rude staff person informed us that it was sold out and we were on the wait list. What!!! How can that be? I got pissed, but tried to maintain my improving zen-like state. We waited and I stewed. Ugh. I had been looking forward to it and now we might not get on the boat. In the end she went back to her manager and I guess the figured out how to get us on. She had to gall to inform us that “we always do the wait list in order of booking and luckily you were first on the wait list.” What? Your colleague told us we were booked, not waitlisted! You messed up and you blame me!! Sheesh. But we were on the bus and heading to the boat, so let it go dude.

The boat was a very nice 18-meter catamaran with a jet engine. I guess they do this in order to minimize any potential injury to the sea life. They had said “high risk of seasickness,” but as we motored out, it was not very rough. Maybe a 1 meter swell with a little chop. For us hardy ferry crossers, this was child’s play and no dramamine was needed (available at their gift shop for what appeared to be only a 50% markup!). Right away they spotted a whale and we cruised over to it. A big gigantic Sperm whale named Mata Mata. I guess they can identify each whale by the unique patterns on their tails.

I guess Kaikōura is one of the best whale watching places on earth because there is a really deep canyon that comes quite close to shore and allows the whales to move in right next to shore. Plus, the upwhelling currents produce a lot of good eating for the whales, so they like to hang out there. Yeah for us!

Super deep canyon makes good whale watching

We ended up seeing two whales on the cruise. Well, actually we saw Mata Mata twice, but he was spectacular each time. I guess he weighs in at a hefty 100,000 lbs. Yowzaa. We got back to the shore and I was super happy to have managed to get out to see a few of the amazing creatures. I ended up giving the dumb tour company a 1 star rating for being so rude. Susanne read some of the other bad reviews and we were not alone in the rudeness of how they handled people. She also noted that apparently their system gives priority to online bookings, which is likely how our problem occurred. Sounds like an incredibly idiotic system.

I was hoping to get a bike ride in while we were in Kaikōura as I had noticed that they had built a nice 40 km cycle trail that looped around the valley. In general, the riding looked surprisingly good, but we ran out of time. Too bad. Next time. As beautiful and amazing as Kaikōura is, I think both of us decided that it was just a little too small and remote to realistically consider this as our final stopping point, although we came to that conclusion with a bit of regret. It is a must visit spot in New Zealand and definitely one of the most beautiful places on earth. But onward to Oamaru.

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