Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kaikoura, The Seal Coast

Jan. 30, 2013

 From Picton we drove the short distance to Blenheim (pronounced BLEN-um), a pretty little town that isn't on the coast, but rather is in the midst of the vineyards and wineries.  There are a few museums, but we mostly relaxed and wandered around the quaint little town which has a lovely park, an interesting town center called "The Forum" with this gazebo (probably has a more la-di-da name like a pergola or something), and also boasts some of the best weather we've encountered in NZ.  Sun, warm sun, so welcome after all the rain we've gone through - summer was finally in Blenheim.

Then we headed back toward the Pacific (east) coast and made our way to the Kaikoura coast (pronounced KI (like eye) - KI-kour-a).  New Zealand is divided into districts, which often have the same name as the major town or city in that district - so the Kaikoura district and the Kaikoura range and the town of Kaikoura all have the same name - which mean "lobster food" or "food - lobster" in Maori.

Anyway, we drove through sunburned hills and green vineyards and a few mountainous peaks with snow still in the crevasses - and then arrived at the warm turquoise blue of the Pacific, so inviting, so much colder than it looks.  Well, the Pacific looks warm in the sunlight - the moment the sun goes behind a cloud, that water looks exactly as frigid as it feels!

We stopped at a picnic area 
for a stretch, and I wandered down to the beach to get a few photos of the water, the rocks, the weird kelp.  And nearly tripped over a sleeping seal - sound 
 asleep!  I made a little 
 squeal of excitement, and she woke up and turned her head to look at me - then turned back to her original position, ignored me, and went back to sleep.  OMG, it was so amazing to be about five feet from a big fur seal, who didn't seem to even care!!!  How exciting! 

 We drove a bit further down the coast and pulled over at the Ohau (OH-how) seal colony - we first stood by the road and watched the seals, then walked down to the platform just above the rocks, for an even better view.   Mama seals, baby seals, adolescent seals, babies following the adolescents, babies wrestling like little puppies, mamas taking turns keeping an eye on the babies as they splashed around in the tide pool of the huge boulders, older teenage seals frolicking in the ocean and doing their back flips and side flips and dolphin dives and waving their fins in the air as if to say, "Hey Mom, watch me do this!"
It was absolutely thrilling to watch the seals at play and at their daily routine -  with a few very large seals, most likely the males, off to one side on separate rocks, away from the babies.  We just stood their watching the seals playing and being their usual funny selves.

And then we headed into Kaikoura - the town.  Another pretty little town, with its own seal colony, who live at one end of the peninsula (of course named Kaikoura).  Anyway, the Kaikoura Peninsula has this very weird rock formation, kind of a shelf or a platform, that stretches out into the ocean for several hundred meters - it's only accessible at low tide, because it's underwater at high tide.

And this is where the seals hang out.  Well, and on the rock islands sticking up out of the ocean.  And around the corner where there are more rocks, more platform, more seals.  And around the other corner, where there are seals who just want to be alone.  

It's just sort of one big rocky wasteland that disappears at high tide, and is inhabited by fur seals and shore birds.  Backed by the dramatic Kaikoura Range, it really is a gorgeous spot.

I wandered around looking at the rocks and the seals, especially this big guy who climbed onto his own rock stage and put on quite a performance, rolling around and hanging his head down while all the visitors took his photo and ooohed and aaaahed over him.  

There was even one seal who was sound asleep in the bushes - people walked back and forth on the boardwalk, looking at him, and he just stayed there, sound asleep.

I had a nice walk back to our motel, which actually was more like a one-bedroom  cabin than the studio room we had booked - but no worries, that's what the owner gave us, that's what we enjoyed.

I encountered strange rocks that looked like the Pancake Rocks of the west coast, but tilted on their sides so the pancakes are almost vertical - strange, aren't they?

But I couldn't get over the scenery - that gorgeous ocean water, blue blue sky, and the mountains in between.  I know there are other parts of the world where the mountains nearly meet the ocean, but there aren't many of those places - and this is an exceptionally gorgeous spot to begin with, even before one starts thinking about the combination of geography.

There are whale watching trips, swim with the dolphins or swim with the seals events - we opted to wander around, enjoy the ambiance of the town, look at the animals who were willing to be seen, and relaxed.  

There are even a few brave penguins who live on the other side of the peninsula, in South Bay, and nest under the Coast Guard building.  I guess they figure they're protected there.  (Brave because seals have been known to eat baby penguins.  I have a hard time forgiving seals for doing that, but, well, we all have to eat something, right?)  I tried to participate in the Coast Guard's night viewing, but no one else signed up, so the trip was cancelled.

But the seals were more than enough to make this a very special place.

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