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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for January, 2008

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.

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