Kaikura is not a particularly beautiful town although its location is pretty spectacular, but anyone who goes to NZ must go there. In fact, if we could have, we would have stayed a second night. The reason for my enthusiasm is the Dolphin Encounter that we did. The local folks who run the Encounter organization really do it right. It’s well staffed, well managed, and they know the wildlife. Upon arrival at the facility, we were fitted out with wet suits, snorkels and masks and flippers; given an orientation that included an excellent video and a safety talk; then loaded onto buses for the short trip to the dock. Each boat carried 12-14 participants, a skipper and a guide. When Belinda, our guide, told us that the dusky dolphin pod that we’d be interacting with was only about 20 minutes out in the bay we were all excited. When she told us there were more than 400 dolphins in the pod, I, for one, was incredulous. She wasn’t kidding – there were dolphins everywhere.
It really was an extraordinary experience. We all sat on steps at the back of the boat, and when the skipper killed the motors and Belinda gave us the signal, we all slipped into the water. Suddenly, there were dolphins all around us. The three things we’d been told to do to attract the dolphins' interest and curiosity were: keep our arms close to our body (to look dolphin-like), sing (yes, sing!) and, if a dolphin began to circle, circle with it. We were also reminded that these are wild dolphins and we were not to try touching them. It was magical to see dozens of dolphins swimming next to, past, and around while in the water with them; many had baby dolphins swimming with them. I was so excited I initially forgot to put my snorkel in my mouth! Trying to swim in circles with a dolphin is exhilarating and, of course, ultimately impossible, because they are so fast; however, they do keep swimming with you while you try.
We had five different sessions in the water with the dolphins over about an hour. Then, we got out, dried off and put on warm clothes so that we could watch them from the boat while we drank hot chocolate and ate ginger cookies. The sea was moderate, which means that it was coming in fairly large, rolling waves – a number of folks were affected by sea sickness. Roger was moderately affected for a while; I felt a tad nauseous but then was fine. While we watched the dolphins from the boat, they swam under and around us, jumping and rolling. One of them, who must be in training for the dolphin Olympics, started jumping tail over head in giant somersaults time after time. On the boat ride back to dock, we saw a number of Giant Petrals, Cape Petrals and some Albatross. The Petrals were flying along behind us, and the Albatross were sitting in the water some distance away. It would have been great to do the Albatross Encounter that the same company does! Arriving back at their facility we were able to take hot showers and get some lunch. This was a bonus for us because we had checked out of our motel and were facing a four hour drive over winding roads to Lewis Pass.