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Moby Sick

19-21 April 2010

Update: K & J and I lost touch for a bit but reunited last year. They are now married and have a lovely baby boy!

As predicted, as I am stiff as a stiff thing the next day and it takes me ages to get down the flight of stairs from K and J’s flat when I finally venture out for a hobble on the beach and to get some food as I have elected to cook tonight (lucky K and J!). I think my 93 year old Grandmother can walk faster than me at the moment and it reminds me of how I felt after the London Marathon, which co-incidentally is nearly a year ago. That also means that I have been unemployed and out of the ‘real world’ for nearly a year and unsurprisingly I haven’t missed it one bit: thank you OC for making me redundant!

I don’t really do much on my final days in CHCH: it has been great catching up with K and J, eating great home cooked food (not mine) and being out of a yoff hostel. K and J were very generous in giving me their room too, so many thanks for that.

K comes to see me off at the bus-stop and I catch the bus to Kaikoura mid afternoon. Sadly, my anecdotes on NZ bus drivers comes to an end on this trip as Wayne just gives us the safety announcement and reiterates several times that no ‘hot food or drink’ is allowed on the coach. I thought the road to Kaikoura would be a coastal one but instead it winds through farm land and hills and as the sun begins to set, a lot of low cloud begins to settle and I fear for my whale watching trip tomorrow.

We arrive in Kaikoura in the dark and I struggle to find the backpackers that I am staying but after asking in another backpackers, I finally check in. It has a lovely communal lounge with a fire place and it was originally the town’s post office, dating back to 1893 but is now a high quality eco-friendly inn. In fact, this is the first commercial place that I have stayed in that does recycling, which doesn’t seem that big in NZ. I am on my own again in a 4-bed dorm and the bathroom is across the hall: a major bonus for travelling off season.

Kaikoura has a rich history and culture and its earliest inhabitants, the Moa hunters, date back 900 years. The legend goes that Tama ki Te Rangi arrived in the area many hundreds of years ago and was hungry and tired. He found an abundance of crayfish and named the area Te Ahi Kaikoura a Tama ki Te Rangi – ‘the fire that cooked the crayfish of Tama ki Te Rangi’. It is beyond me why they decided to short the name to Kaikoura: ‘food and crayfish’. I also read later that the Kaikoura community are leading the way in NZ in terms of a sustainable community and by taking real steps to address the factors contributing to climate change. Good on them.

It’s a gloriously sunny day and I head off in search of the whale watching company and I’m told that there’s a two metre swell offshore and it’s advisable to take a sea sickness tablet. I duly do as I am told as I do not have sea legs at the best of times and appearances are deceptive as the sea close to shore is as flat as a pancake. We go 5 miles off shore and this is deep enough for the whales to feed and hang about. I am feeling decidedly ill and try and concentrate on the presentation as I don’t want to disgrace myself by hurling over the person in front of me.

We are looking for male sperm whales as it’s too cold for the females (sensible) and the males can be as big as an airbus aeroplane, and their hearts can be as big as a Volkswagen beetle. So, they are not very big then!

Suddenly one of the crew shouts that a sperm whale as been spotted but by the time we get there all I can see is its tail disappearing into the ocean as it begins its average 40 minute decent to do whatever it is that whales do (get away from tourists, no doubt) The sudden movement and being outdoors has made me feel a lot worse and I join some other non sailors indoors to wait out the resurfacing of Big Nick (this is his name as he has been identified by the ‘nick’ in his tail). Who says you should never work with animals? We head off in search of the other whale that has been spotted in the area- to no avail- but come back to see Nick coming up for air and what a sight it is. I am so excited that I think I am going to wet my pants and although Nick does not surface for very long, it’s long enough to get an idea of his size, get some photos and to see the classic ‘tail dive’. I feel like I am going to cry (although this might be sea sickness): it has been an incredible experience.

We are running out of time, so we cannot wait for him to resurface again and we head back to shore and luckily come across a pod of Dusky dolphins as they swim under the boat. The operators tell us that is has been an ‘average’ trip and we are therefore entitled to a 20% discount, and although this is great for the budget conscious, I would not have described it as average and I have had a whale of a time.

I am pleased that I managed not to throw up and I go back to the backpackers for lunch and go for a walk along the beach and take some photos. I am off to Wellington tomorrow which involves, firstly, the bus to Picton and then the ferry crossing over the Cook Straits to Wellington, with its 92km of breathtaking views.

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