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Posts Tagged ‘dolphins’

Sarah and I have become Queens of the highways. With Sunny as our chariot and our tent “Castle II,” we have journeyed along some of New Zealand’s most scenic routes. And, being royalty of rad roadtrips, it only makes sense that our first stop is…

Queenstown

The screams from the bungi jumpers (skydivers/jetboaters/paragliders) can be heard frmo the car as we finish the mountain road from Wanaka. Its no surprise, considering this is the adrenaline capital of the universe. What is surprising is that I (and my rapidly shrinking wallet) is not tempted at all – Africa out-adrenalined me, at least for now.

Instead, we indulge in some smashing nights out and some free nights accom – courtesy of Sarah’s university friend, Dave. Thanks Dave! We couldn’t resist one awesome adrenaline activity though – the Shotover Jet. This powerful jet boat zips through narrow canyons, doing 360degree spins at 80 km/h. Only one word can sum up this experience: sweeeet. And the guy’s who drive the boats must have the best jobs in the world.

Queenstown wouldn’t be Queenstown without a pulse-racing, heart-attack inducing game of frisbee golf! There is a fully laid-out frisbee golf course in the botanic gardens, complete with tees and baskets for holes. I joined in with the Stray bus crew who were there and me and Lofty came thisclose to winning. Ok, so it wasn’t that close, but it was fun!

Sound Off!

The highway to Milford Sound is a world heritage road – ideal for a roadtrip! Driving through Fiordland National Park is a magical experience. We stopped at mirrored lakes, long tunnels and at every beautiful vista along the way.

Arriving at Milford, the sun was shining and the sky a picture perfect blue. Our booking was for a boat cruise the following morning. But not wanting to miss out on such a stunning day, we allowed our characteristic spontaneity to get the best of us and did it right away. It was so worth it. We saw sealions, bottlenose dolphins and got ducked under a waterfall the equivalent in height of a 50-storey building.

Gliding along Milford Sound is supposed to be a defining moment for anyone’s trip to New Zealand. Once again, as we have come to expect, the hype does not disappoint. It’s hard to imagine a place more breathtaking – Mitre Peak rising out of sparkling waters, the glacier atop Mt. Pembroke still clinging to life after millions of years. It is going to disappear within the next decade. It is, after all, Milford Fiord, not Milford Sound. Sounds are carved out by rivers; fiords, by glaciers. The glaciers recede, and maybe one day they will come back.

The Road is Long…

Today we completed the Southern Scenic route from start (Te Anau) to finish (Dunedin). We didn’t exactly mean to… we meant to stop at Stewart Island. But Stewart Island was full and we hadn’t booked accomodation (smart, I know), so we zipped through the rugged Catlans Coast to Dunedin. The roads were twisted and Sunny often struggled against the wind, but we made it through. The next few days will see us head up to the highest peak in New Zealand: Mt. Cook. Looks like we might need a few more blankets inside good old Castle II. Like any castle, it is plenty drafty in there, and Sarah and I often wake up with noses frozen to our pillows.

And hopefully, a shorter drive day tomorrow.

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The mountains plunge into the ocean at Kaikoura, their peaks rosy in the sunrise. They are blushing, unnerved by the lavish attention the sun pours upon them this morning. The boat zips along the water, churning up the calm blue seas with its wake of white froth. And in amongst it, black dorsal fins appear; the dusky dolphins are playing, teasing and enticing us into the sea.

It’s 5:30am. Sarah and I are shivering in our wetsuits. After an awkward night camping, taking a dip in the freezing Pacific Ocean hardly appeals. But once the horn blows on our boat, we are all told to slip into the water as quickly as possible and swim swim swim to the dolphins, who are a few metres away. My face is glued to the water and it isn’t long before I spy my first dolphin. I squeal with delight but that’s good! We have been told to squeal and sing and laugh to attract the dolphins’ attention. Soon, I am surrounded. There are dolphins above, dolphins below, dolphins spinning me in circles as I catch their eye and play their favourite game: Make the funny people dizzy! As we have been told, we are there to entertain the dolphins, not vice versa. There is a chance they won’t play. And then there are once-in-a-lifetime chances, like today, when the dolphins are so cheery and playful that they can’t get enough of you. They are close enough to touch, but we don’t. They are close enough to see every little scratch on their skin, to watch their splash as they perform their acrobatic stunts, to see them nibble on jellyfish as they snatch one in front of your face. Sarah and I have an underwater camera, and the pictures will either be fabulous or terrible. They were everywhere, but they were so fast.

By 9am, we are exhausted. With the blessing of our skipper Hank, I climb out onto the prow of the boat, throw my legs over the side and start snapping photos. The dusky dolphins are the acrobats of the ocean, and they are in full performance mode this morning. They are somersaulting and jumping in huge groups. There are over 200 dolphins in the vicinity of our boat and there are three boats in the water in total. One of the other boats has a pod of 300 dolphins swimming near it. I have never been in an environment with such an abundance of active, visible marine life. The dolphin encounter in Monkey Mia doesn’t even come close to comparing in terms of sheer numbers of dolphins. Albatross soar overhead too, king of the birds.

I would recommend this trip to anyone; it was fabulous and worth every second of the early morning wake up. We used Dolphin Encounter, and their website is: http://www.dolphin.co.nz/kaikoura/ .

Road Trips with Sunny

Sunny is our constant companion for the next 2 1/2 months! He is the one that will take us around the south island, keep us safe and carry our stuff. Already he has seen much of Christchurch and took us from Ch-ch to Hanmer Springs, a beautiful Alpine village where hot springs are the main feature. We drove through the stunning Lewis Pass, and caught our first glimpse of the magnificent views New Zealand is known for. But it was an afternoon of relaxation in the hot sulphur pools (yes, they were smelly, but it was very warm and soothing) that was just what was in order. We indulged, and happily. It was then a short journey to Kaikoura, where we had a seafood barbeque on the beach with freshly caught scallops, mussels, whitebait and the local delicacy, crayfish. Delicious! It was here that we caught up with friends Adam and Dave, whom we met in South Africa, caught up with in Melbourne and Sydney and now had dinner with in New Zealand. It may be that we will see them again in South East Asia, just to show the serendipitous nature of travel. Indeed!

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Amy and Sarah in fly hatsAustralia is huge. Yeah I know, obvious, right? But it’s not until we’re barrelling down the highways, swerving against kangaroos and blue-tongued skinks in a WesternXposure minibus, that I truly realize it. The number of flies slapping against the windscreen is unreal. Outside is worse. Desperate times call for desperate measures and both Sarah and I fork out for army green outbacker hats, complete with full frontal fly netting. We are just that cool.

The bus that is taking us from Perth to Monkey Mia is a mix of nationalities – Scots, Japanese, Spanish, Swiss.  For the first couple of days we travel with another bus that is going further north, to Exmouth. Having the two buses side by side makes me realize how much your enjoyment of a trip is up to chance. There are good groups of people – like those on our bus. Then there are those who seem in a permanent state of drunk or grump or both. Would it kill the girls on the other bus to crack a smile? Since they never dare to try it, it is easy to think so. Our bus is lucky. Well, except for the poor unfortunates who have to put up with the “When we were in Africa…” girls.Amy and the WesternXposure bus

The big ticket stop on the tour is Monkey Mia and its wild dolphins. Not that we don’t see other things along the way: the Pinnacles desert with its eerie cemetery of innumerable limestone headstones; the reptile infested Murchison Gorge; our great great great ad infinitum grandparents, the 3.5 billion year old stromatolites; Hutt River Province, Prince Leonard’s own country (I have a new stamp in my passport); or have our first taste of kangaroo. But no one is kidding themselves; we are here to see Flipper.

After days of driving through horrendous storms in places that haven’t seen rain in years, the day breaks on the Peron peninsula clear, sunny and bright. The water sparkles as if its been polished for our arrival, a mix of aquamarine shallows and emerald deeps. There are dark figures frolicking by the pier. Even at 7am, they have attracted a line of admirers. Sarah lets out a small squeal of recognition as the apparitions solidify into dorsal fins and bottle-noses. We both drop our bags in the sand and run to join the crowd.

They are so close you could almost reach out and touch them, although we are under strict orders not to. This is especially paramount with the sighting of a one-month old calf playing in the water beside his (or her) mother. Watching the babe is a rare treat, and the slightest disturbance could send the calf and its mother fleeing.

Baby Dolphin and its motherCalfs have about a 50% chance of survival in these waters, the ranger tells us. Tiger sharks are abundant; Shark Bay is no misnomer. I look down at my toes, into water that is neither aquamarine nor emerald  but crystal clear and wonder how there could be any danger. They say that whenever you swim in Australian waters, you’re always within 100 metres of a shark. But tiger sharks are so well fed on the West Coast, humans don’t need to worry about falling accidental prey. Seeing the baby dolphin attempt a leap over its mother, I hope s/he doesn’t have to worry much either.

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