Kaikoura and the seals

When we told people we were travelling to New Zealand as part of this trip, everyone who had knowledge or experience of this area of the world told us not to spend too much time on north island and to head as quickly as possible south. Therefore, our impression of north island before travelling here, was that there probably wouldn’t be too much to do, and we were even feeling slightly panicked that we had already pre-booked our ferry crossing a whole week later, after landing in Auckland on 3rd November.

As it happened, we found lots of interesting sights, cities and experiences on north island; and after reaching Wellington, we actually changed our ferry to a day later, so we would have time to explore the city properly. The only real downside about our north island experience was that our weather hadn’t been too favourable.

We finally left north island 11 days after arriving in New Zealand. On reaching south island, we travelled directly to Kaikoura, the area famed for seals and incredible whale-watching opportunities. Kaikoura was about a 2.5 hour drive along incredible coastline, passing vast vineyards. We were met by fantastic, hot sunshine at last. Before reaching the small town of Kaikoura, we stopped off at a mere-layby with signage indicating possible seal colonies close-by. On guiding the kids away from the 100kmph stretch of road, we hopped over a wall and peered down onto the rocks below. We were met by the sight of literally hundreds of seals, of all sizes, splashing happily around in the sea and languidly laying on rocks, as if they hadn’t a care in the world. It was amazing!

After this astonishing sight, we carried on into Kaikoura and found our second backpacker hostel, which was going to be home for the next 3 nights. This place was very different from the vast, tower block ‘Lodge in the City’ in Wellington; ‘Bad Jelly’, our Kaikoura hostel, appeared more like a residential house, just with extra bedrooms. After playing in the hammock in the garden, the kids jumped straight into the ‘hot spa’ tub, also situated in the back yard. They were also thrilled to have their own separate bedroom, next door to ours, with single beds! I was thrilled to find a washing machine – free to use! – and set about doing a lot of laundry!

We had chosen Kaikoura as our first port of call, because we had decided to treat the kids to the very special experience of a boat trip to see the whales (Whale Watch, NZ). Actually, the kids tickets were bought by our wonderful friends Lisa and Marv (hope you’re enjoying the Modus guys!). However, the following day, we woke to wild winds and the whale trip had to be cancelled due to safety issues of sailing in gale force conditions. To cheer us up, Aaron turned tour guide, so we slipped into the luxury transportation of the Beast (with its super soft velour seating and extra boot space) and headed for the coast to find more seals. Lucky for us, November is the time when seals come ashore for mating, breeding and generally to hang around. We discovered a walk, which isn’t well signposted, but later we found to be recommended on Trip Adviser as the best thing to do in the area. Ohau Stream is tucked away, just off the main coast road. Every year, seal pups travel up the stream, which flows directly onto the beach, culminating approximately 100m up-flow, in a sheltered pool with a waterfall. The seal pups spend several weeks in the stream, whilst the female seals travel out to sea to find fish. We ventured alongside the walkway, up the stream and found 6 seal pups playing happily in the pool. They were diving in and out of the water and hopping onto rocks, almost as if to show off to their human tourist visitors, who like them, had travelled far (sometimes hundreds and thousands of miles!), just to see this spectacular performance. After being disappointed by the non-appearance of the whales, this was the most amazing way to spend the day, and we weren’t at all disappointed by Aaron Brooks’ NZ Seal Experience, especially as it was free !

We had rebooked our Whale experience for the following day, but on reaching the whale muster station, we were informed there was a ‘strong indication for seasickness’ on our sailing. Bearing in mind that Rosie was sick on the ferry across the Cook straight between islands, we didn’t think this would bode well and it would be such a shame to spend most our expensive treat sat under deck, in the loo. The company were great and refunded our money and we decided to cut our losses and head further South, for a farm-stay experience I found out about online….

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