We landed in Christchurch around 12:30am and didn’t get to our hotel after customs and the shuttle until about 2:00am. No time for sleeping-in however, the next day we booked a bus up to the coastal town of Kaikoura so we only had a few hours to get out and explore Christchurch! We were up and at ‘em and headed to a breakfast spot that the shuttle driver had recommended the night before (after advising us not to try and make the trek to Burger King even though we were starving). It would be our first, real, portland-like breakfast in a while and we were pumped.
It was a pretty great breakfast to welcome us to New Zealand. After our meal, we set out to see the sights and sounds of the wonderful city of Christchurch. Christchurch has a pretty melancholy past. Just a few years ago, the city which is the second largest in New Zealand, experienced two life-shattering earthquakes which killed almost 200 people and seriously altered the structures of the city. Although these earthquakes were devastating and still cause distress, they have also given the city an opportunity to recreate itself. Christchurch has embraced this transition as far as I’m concerned and amid the construction and still abandoned lots we found amazing, energetic activities, buildings, and people which left us with very fond memories of the quake-stricken city.
First, we came across this newly created tourist hub which included cute shops and restaurants along with historical accents and a cute, working city trolly.
Then, we headed over to the Re: Start Mall. This is a great sustainable building concept that made me smile ear to ear. The whole mall is made of old shipping containers!
At least lululemon has a sustainable store here in New Zealand…that should gain them some points!
Awesome shipping container coffee shop!
After checking out the mall, we got to see a street performer and of course Andrew was invited to participate!
Next, it was off to the Christchurch museum which was actually pretty amazing even though we aren’t usual museum-goers. We got a great introduction to the history of New Zealand including that of the indigenous people, the Maori. We also got really lucky and got to see a Banksy exhibit.
We also came across quite a bit of the aftermath of the quakes in addition to the cool new attributes of the city. It was pretty eerie.
After a quick lunch, it was unfortunately time to go back to our hotel, grab our bags, and jump on the bus to Kaikoura. On the way we came across another cool refurbished item and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take pictures. Also, in case anyone is curious, this is what we look like when we have all of our bags on…
“So Dad, I some how ended up in England and I’m going to need more money….”
The bus drive to Kaikoura was a pretty good indicator of the wonderful ocean views we had to look forward to. Kaikoura is famous as one of New Zealand’s best coastal spots to venture out into the ocean and see the many wonderful sights and animals. After arriving and dropping our bags at our newest “home” for the night, we headed to the i-site (New Zealand’s extremely helpful information and booking centers).
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to swim with dolphins. In the states, you can go to vacation spots like Florida and Hawaii and jump into a pool with dolphins while they play with you and even let you ride on their backs. Although I’ve been to both of these places and was always very interested, it just hadn’t been in my cards to participate. Of course, being in Kaikoura, the dusky dolphin capital of the world, I wanted to finally get my chance to swim with dolphins. Not only were these dolphins, they were wild dolphins out in the middle of the South Pacific. Pretty awesome if you ask me!
However, we checked in with the booking agent, and due to small numbers of swimmers allowed in the water each day for each boat, all of the boats were already fully booked for swimmers. Although I was severely bummed, since we only had one day to book a tour in Kaikoura, Andrew and I decided to book a tour as spectators since we had heard such great things from other travelers.
The next morning we were awoken to absolutely perfect weather and were immediately happy that we had booked a boat trip for the day, even if it didn’t include jumping in the water. We headed over to the Dolphin Encounter offices for some lunch and a pre-boarding information session.
Soon it was off to board the boat!
Andrew and I quickly figured out that we were the only spectators on the boat…bummer. It was sort of hard to forget my urge to get in the water when literally EVERYONE else was getting in the water to swim with the dolphins… Oh well….
We jumped up to the front of the boat to get the best dolphin views once we had found a pod that seemed to be interested in hanging out with our boat. Since the company does not entice the wild dolphins with food or any other means, they must simply find a pod that seems to be interested in interacting with the boat. It was absolutely AMAZING!!!! We literally saw HUNDREDS of wild dolphins jumping and flipping around our boat! We had never seen such a thing!!
One of the boat crew, Jess, spotted our GoPro and was quickly helping us get the best shots as she was a GoPro aficionado herself. Thanks to Jess’ instruction, we were able to get some great shots of the dolphins racing the boat between swimming stops.
Here is some footage I caught on my camera (not quite as good as the GoPro).
As we were admiring the dolphins with Jess, I started noticing some of the simmers coming into the boat without their wetsuits. I asked Jess if they were done swimming…ya know, just out of curiosity…and she said yes, they were over it. I quickly added, “Well, I’d love to swim if I could.” I mean, why not throw it out there right??!
Jess told me she really wished she could, but she would be in so much trouble. Okay, dreams crushed again, time to give up Caitlin. What you are seeing right now is amazing, live in the moment and enjoy it why don’t you?!
We continued to take in the wonderful sights of jumping dolphins and soak up the sun on the front of the boat as the swimmers hopped in and out of the water from the back.
After a few minutes of being inside, Jess came back out to the front.
“So Caitlin, do you want to go for a swim?”
OH MY GODDDDDDDD!!!!!!! I barely had time to scream yes in my high pitched voice before I was squeezing into an already wet wetsuit that was probably too small in the first place. Thank goodness I brought my swim suit! I put the snorkel over my head, stuck it in my mouth, and got ready to jump off the back of the boat as soon as we stopped, but not before hearing the other crew member, Josh say to me over the wind, “You’ve got someone watching over you today, Caitlin!”
Josh said that because I really did get extremely lucky. With very strict swimming permit restrictions and usually more than one couple of spectators on each boat, people who have not signed up previously (or paid) to swim do not usually get to. However, when Josh said that I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am in general. There is one person in general that I think is always looking over me, but weather its him or not, I am so very lucky everyday to be doing the things I’m doing and being who I am. Okay, enough with the mushy stuff, lets swim with the dolphins!!!!!!!!!
As I’m sure you guessed, it was AMAZING. Definitely one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life! The dolphins get extremely close and are so curious! To be honest, I felt like the dolphins were paying extra attention to me, circling around me and coming so close we actually picked up their communication on the GoPro! I figured I was imagining it, but after getting back on the boat Jess assured me that the dolphins are very curious about the poles like the one that we had mounted our GoPro on, so cool! However, in case you are wondering if I touched any, I did not. Being wild dolphins you are advised to never touch them as we are not there to get in the way of anything, but simply observe and interact if they are willing.
As I mentioned, we did get some awesome video with the GoPro, but we are saving that for a video about the whole trip, so stay tuned!!
Cold and wet, but so happy!!!!
Next up was Picton, the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds. Again, we got extremely lucky with beautiful weather! We showed up however and went straight to the bar to watch the Seahawks absolutely obliterate the Broncos, aka the Superbowl.
However, we soon set out to explore the Picton harbor and headed off on a short hike to seek out Bob’s Bay. It definitely did not disappoint. We were getting used to New Zealand exceeding our expectations.
The next day, it was off for a 10k hike on the famous Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds! The hike started with a sunrise boat-ride to our starting point during which the sea sickness pills made me fall asleep…1 point for Andrew.
I think Andrew and I can both agree that this was the best, most beautiful hike we’ve ever been on. There were beautiful views at just about every turn that were punctuated with some of the clearest waters we have ever seen! Absolutely beautiful.
After finishing the hike, it was time for our rewards; beers and our included meals which ended up being amazing! Fresh, local mussels and a lamb burger!
The South Island treated us extreemly, extreemly well. Good weather, beautiful sights, and a strike of very good luck for me. Next, on to the ferry to get up to the North Island!