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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for Seaside

We found Nemo

We have just returned from a fine couple of days diving at Ko Similan, an archipelago about 60 miles off the west coast. We we’re accommodated on a small live-aboard dive boat called Linda which was very nice, but had the firmest mattresses we have yet experienced in a country that revels in the firmness of a mattress. It was run by Sign Scuba who were great fun and are proudly “Wan hundet pahcen Thai”.

The diving was fantastic; the most colourful and abundantly fishy place we have dived yet. We saw lots of Clark’s anemonefish (recently popularised in a cartoon), several hawksbill turtles (one tried to nibble my toes - not quite as dangerous as the tiger that might have chewed my leg off previously but it could have inflicted a nasty nip), a black-tipped reef shark, and a multitude of colourful and pretty fish. The coral was good too, as were the shrimpy things.

We’re back in Khao Lak now. Heading to Krabi and Ko Lanta tomorrow.

Temples and beaches

After a hot and steamy day in Bangkok we are now on the  moderately relaxing island of Ko Tao where we live in a shack  by the beach and eat fine food.  Apart from the changes of location, accommodation, diet and temperature, we now also have someone else to talk to in the form of Bella, who we picked up in a bar in Bangkok.

Talking of being picked up, we enjoyed the best hotel “pick-up” from our accomodation in Bangkok where we had booked a transfer, bus and boat to Ko Tao. Our pick up involved someone coming to find us at 0530 and walking us to the bus. Not quite what we expected, but luckily it wasn’t far.

Bangkok was quite an experience. It’s more laid back than Central America - touts on the street give up after a simple “No”. We stayed in the backpacker district of Banglamphu for a night and wandered the rather amusing Kao San Road. We also got Bella fitted out with a couple of nice dresses (can’t have our travelling companions looking shabby now, can we?).

The King is very popular here, as is Buddha, so we went to the Grand Palace and visited a small green Buddha with a disproportionately large temple, all gold and sparkly.

Fiona would like me to state that I am the “King of Understatement” and that I should emphasise how impressive these buildings were. A picture speaks a thousand words, so here’s one:

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Poorly behaved endangered species

The island of Tiritiri Matangi is described as somewhere that anyone with even a mild interest in wildlife must visit. Eagerly we booked ourselves on a boat, with only slight disappointment at the huge number of our journey mates.

One of the highlights of the island is the Takahe, which resembles a rather overgrown moorhen. Now, the Takahe is one of the rarest birds in the world; it’s terribly endangered, and was once thought extinct. Rare birds should, of course, be difficult to see, and behave with a certain dignity befitting their status.

Takehe

This Takahe is stealing a chocolate bar from an old lady’s lunch. How rude is that? This beast is known - it is called Greg and will regularly strut around the beach begging and stealing food. All well and good you might say, more energy means Greg is better able to service the ladies and save the species from extinction! Not so, Greg has been eating too much junk food and can’t keep a lady. He hasn’t bred for years. Utterly useless. He should be confined to the sperm bank then poor old ladies lunches will be safe and any genetic uselfulness will be preserved.

It’s grim up North

We made it to the top of New Zealand (well, nearly), had a fine walk and a swim on a rather beautiful, long and sweeping, deserted beach, not half an hour’s walk from the procession of grockles heading to Cape Reinga lighthouse.

We camped by a beach on the other side of the Cape - a very  beautiful spot too. Only when the sun set did we discover the dark side of this delightful spot: more mosquitoes than I have ever seen before. The lee side of our van was black with them. All night we could hear the whine of these infernal beasts.

For the past eight months we have been cursing the mosquito net that we have been carrying around and have only used once. This night we used it - it fitted badly in the camper van, however it saved us from the hoards of mossies that we knew would find their way into the van.

In the morning we awoke to discover the power of Permethrin. Approximately 200 dead mosquitoes lined each side of our net (on the outside!). A few we still flying around, looking slightly intoxicated. We soon dispensed with them.

We are now in Rawene and heading south. Just one more week in New Zealand, then we are off to Thailand.

Poor Knights

We recently went diving in one of the world’s “top-ten” diving spots - the Poor Knights Islands off the east coast of Northland - we had been warned that the swells may make the trip out there a bit grim, but with two bits of crystallised ginger for breakfast, my stomach behaved very well.

We had a lovely day and had our first experience of ‘cold’ (21 degrees C) water diving, complete with 2-piece 7mm wetsuits (so 14mm total around our torso) they were a hassle to get in and out of, but they kept us nice and toasty, and we were probably warmer than in Honduras. They also affected our buoyancy somewhat, and I ended up with 10kg of weights, and still couldn’t sink that well!!

The marine life was amazing - there were literally hundreds of fish around us, and even as the boat arrived we saw shoals of trevally and blue maomao at the surface. Underwater we saw lots of pretty damoiselles and snappers, three types of eel and a few black angelfish to name a few. After finally getting to grips with my buoyancy I was able to relax a bit and do some impressive spots - two stingrays, a packhorse crayfish, and the only poisonous fish in these waters - the well camouflaged scorpion fish. We also saw lots of funky nudibranchs - some stripy blue and yellow, others bright orange with white spots. Oh and a cool firebrick starfish. Ah, if only I had an underwater camera….

As the skipper told us, this was different from diving on coral as we could handle things and not worry about kicking the bottom etc. We were therefore a bit peturbed on our first descent by the number of spiny urchins along the seafloor and walls - definitely a good reason for avoiding any surfaces!

A marvellous occurence

After a pleasant evening in Auckland and mildly frantic search for somewhere to live we spent a relaxing morning strolling the shores and headlands of Mahauangi, a touch north of the big smoke. We found lots of curious and new beach fauna and admired a tall ship that was anchored in the bay.

Offshore I could see hundreds of seabirds, but they were too far away for satisfaction. Most vexing. Some time later we clambered up onto a headland and much to my surprise, a few thousand feeding shearwaters had surrounded the aforementioned tall ship.  This was most unusual behaviour; shearwaters are normally offshore feeders.  As the raft of birds was slowly making its way towards the shore I pegged it off down the hill as fast as my little legs would carry me (I confess to abandoning my flip-flop clad beloved atop the hill).

By the time I reached the beach the birds were just metres from the shore. These were Fluttering shearwaters (a poor choice of name I’m afraid). I waded into the water to obtain closer views and was sorely tempted to strip off and go for a swim with them, however just as the urge became strongest, the fishy-things they were feeding on drifted away and so did the shearwaters.

They had caused quite a commotion. Even the local rangers stopped and admired the show, having never seen such a display before (then they asked me what they were!).

The north of the South

Over the last few days we have been exploring the north coast of the South Island - we started off towards the west with the Abel Tasman national park - there is a coastal track and lots of kayaking going on around there - we went for a couple of day walks around the area to check out some of the beaches, seal and shag colonies that are around - we had lovely weather (with red nose and shoulders to prove it), and the sea was a beautiful colour - so tempting to go for a dip, although a paddle proved sufficiently chilly and refreshing. We punctuated our hard walking (ha!) with afternoon naps on the beach - a habit I could get used to.

We saw in the New Year in a layby with views to the estuary and bottle of Tui beer, lovely!

The second main national park on the coast comprises Queen Charlotte Sounds - on the east side of the island. We arrived late in the afternoon after a scenic if twisty and hilly journey - we stayed in a relatively busy campsite (in comparison to the laybys we had previously been using) and finally went for a swim in the warmish waters of the sound. Yesterday we checked out a small section of the Queen Charlotte Track, which runs along the coast and occasionally into some of the bays and tramped through some overgrown grass and reeds to find our own lovely little beach for lunch - a Weka came and said hello, and Chris went for a quick dip - I was too wimpy and stuck with the paddling.

We are currently in Picton debating whether to go on a boat trip this afternoon for some dolphin and bird spotting. Tomorrow we head off on the Cook Strait to the North Island.

Psycho penguins, argumentative albatrosses, and mellow furries

We enjoyed a fine couple of days in the environs of Kaikoura. The town itself is nothing to speak of but I was attracted by the opportunity to see plentiful seabirds over the edge of the continental shelf, close inshore.

As we approached town Fiona skillfully parked next to a group of Dusky Dolphins, both parties staying in their required moisture status. After finding a mediocre and expensive campsite in town we strolled along the fur seal dotted shore. The furries were all very well behaved compared to their Antarctic counterparts, they didn’t even attempt to bite badly behaved tourists.

We kept walking, away from the masses of grockles, until we found a cave. Of course, a cave must be explored, and inside we found a rather brazen Yellow-eyed Penguin, boldly staring down at us. At the time, I was surprised by his lack of fear of us - we subsequently found out he is locally known as ‘Psycho’, due to his tendancy to chase sheep, people, albatrosses - anything that comes near him.

From the cliff top we watched the whale watching boats and aircraft chasing Sperm Whales. The three big (50 people) boats chasing two whales, with only one boat getting reasonable views was enough to put us off and we opted for an early morning boat trip to the deep water to see seabirds. This turned out to be an excellent adventure - we saw lots of wandering albatrosses of the Antipodean and Gibson’s subspecies or species (depending on your taxonomic point of view). Salvin’s and White-capped albatross were plentiful too. All the birds hang around the back of the boat to try and get a bit of tempting fish liver, frozen, and in a cage, that is used to attract them.

I’ve never watched an albatross/petrel foraging event at sea so close before. Several of the wanderers used their courtship calls, even some Salvin’s seemed to be displaying to each other. Curious behaviour, as they can only form pair bonds with birds that live in their colony. The wanderers would also fight for prime feeding position. Vicious attacks with that big hooky bill are serious business.

Our skipper gave us hot chocolate and ginger biscuits. First class!

Later in the day we opted for a swim with the New Zealand Fur Seals. A touristy set up, but we needed to hire wetsuits and gear. We walked over to a small haul-out of surplus male seals (furries have harems) and jumped in. A few seals cruised around us, but few came close until a couple of boys decided we were interesting. Being eye to eye with a male fur seal is something I would only want to experience in the water: their breath smells and they bite. Under water they are supremely elegant, and even seem to have a nice personality.

Swimming with mermaids

As we are having such a terrible time on this round the world trek, as many of you keep alluding to, we decided to treat ourselves with a snorkeling trip from Caye Caulker. The second largest coral reef in the world is three miles offshore (so this is not quite paradise) so a boat is needed. There were many tour operators in town touting for our business but for me there were two considerations:

  1. The type of boat
  2. Whether they would lend me a prescription mask

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in fast, rigid launches of late so when Ragamuffin Tours presented the opportunity to go sailing and snorkeling and had a prescription mask for me to borrow we signed up with all haste.

The boat was a 15 m ketch called Ragga Queen - a lovely motor sailor - just the kind of boat I would like.

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Wind seems to be an afternoon phenomenon here so we motored to the reef. At the first stop we jumped in were happily admiring the fishes - lots more than we had seen at Utila - when a strange grey beast lying on the sandy bottom loomed into view - a manatee! After seeing them from the surface last week this was a real treat. I dived down to have a closer look and swam alongside the beast for a while. It was beautiful in its own special way, but I say ungainly and fantastically ugly at the same time - I have no idea where the myths of manatees being mermaids come from.

My extensive observations of marine mammals lead me to conclude that if I was such a beast I would opt for two hind flippers rather than the single big tail that manatees have - it’s not a fast moving, efficient looking beast - perhaps they adhere to the official motto of Caye Caulker “Go slow!”.

At our next two stops along the reef we swam with nurse sharks and sting rays and loads of big ugly fish - it was really rather special.

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On the way home we sailed which was lovely. The peacefulness was only disturbed by the loud reggae music blaring from the stereo, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter.

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Hammock swinging on the beach

We’re on Caye Caulker - we couldn’t keep away from the seaside for long. It’s a very peaceful place with no cars, just golf carts, and lots of palms. We’re staying in a shack right on the beach, with two hammocks slung between coconut trees just outside (but carefully, so that a nut can’t fall on your head).

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We bumped into Aussie John from Opwall yesterday and had a fine time with him. Tomorrow we are going snorkeling on the second biggest barrier reef in the world.

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