Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Just off the coast is a huge underwater canyon system and its nutrient-rich waters attract Sperm whales all year round. Humpback whales and occasionally Blue whales can also be spotted as they pass through the area during their annual migration.
We pulled up at a lovely beachfront campsite and after watching the sunset, we fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. The next morning we headed into town and walked along Kaikoura’s peninsular walkway. There were some fantastic cliff top views and tons of seals lazing on the beaches below.
Instead of whale watching, we opted for the more interactive experience of swimming with wild Dusky dolphins. Dusky dolphins are one of the most acrobatic species of dolphins and they are very sociable; often swimming in large pods of up to 500 dolphins. To attract the dolphins’ attention we were told to dive down, swim around in circles and make strange noises. We might have looked and sounded a bit odd, but it seemed to do the trick! We were surrounded by tons of inquisitive dolphins and even spotted a couple of dolphins mating. It was an amazing experience and it seemed like the dolphins enjoyed the interaction too!
Once we were back on dry land, we walked along Ohau Stream to a small, picturesque waterfall that becomes a sanctuary for young seal pups in the winter months. The pups spend the day playing in the stream while their mothers are busy hunting for fish in the sea. It was well worth the 5 minute walk to watch the adorable pups splashing around and waddling over the rocks.
Next stop: Wellington, New Zealand
Abel Tasman National Park stretches from Tasman Bay to Golden Bay on the north coast of the South Island. We decided to explore the area by doing a 2 day self-guided kayak trip, spending the night in a hut on one of the secluded beaches. Aided with a map and a couple of flares (just in case we got into trouble) we paddled off into the distance.
We kayaked passed a few golden sand bays before we reached the northern tip of Adele Island. The island is home to a seal colony and we watched on as several young pups splashed around in the sea. The pups are definitely more playful and inquisitive than the adult seals who seem to prefer basking on top of the rocks. After getting our seal-fix, we kayaked back to the mainland and pulled up on one of the beaches for a quick lunch stop. We didn’t hang around for long though as a few pesky seagulls kept swooping in and trying to steal our dinner. After lunch, we kayaked further north along the lush coastline before we reached our hut at the beautiful Anchorage Bay.
We set off early the next morning, we were keen to make the most of our last day on the water and it wasn’t long before we spotted some unusual activity on the horizon. We quickly kayaked over to get a closer look and we were amazed to see a large pod of Bottlenose dolphins surrounding us. We couldn’t believe our luck; they swam so close to the kayak and often passed beneath us. It was incredible!
We kayaked alongside the dolphins up to Tonga Island Marine Reserve. I’d like to say they were trying to keep up with us, but it was definitely more the other way around. Two dolphins were particularly intrigued by the kayak (and gopro) and kept us company while we were lagging behind. At Tonga Island there were a few seal pups who swam along with the dolphins, occasionally they were flung into the air in what looked like a game of seal volleyball. I think the dolphins were definitely having the most fun at this point.
Just before we were due to head back to the mainland to catch our water taxi the dolphins treated us to a private acrobatic show. They were jumping out all over the place, doing tricks within meters of our kayak, and the more we cheered the higher they seemed to jump! It was an amazing way to end our kayaking adventure and it stands out as one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip.
Next stop: Kaikoura, New Zealand
The Catlins Coast stretches from Invercargill to Balclutha. The rugged coastline and deserted beaches are home to a variety of marine life including the endangered yellow-eyed penguins, Hector dolphins and Hooker’s sea lions. We spent 4 days exploring the area and witnessing some of its wildlife.
Yellow Eyed Penguins
Nugget Point Lighthouse
Hooker’s Sea Lion
My favourite sighting was spotting the adorable yellow-eyed penguins (the rarest breed of penguin) waddling ashore to their nests, whereas James preferred getting up close to the Hooker’s sea lions at Cannibal Bay.
We also visited the quirky Lost Gypsy Gallery which is filled with interactive (wind up and button pushing) creations. For example, there was a piano that was hooked up to various objects around the room, so playing a key would trigger anything from a whirring fan to chattering teeth. It was really good fun looking around and playing with all the amazing inventions!
The Lost Gypsy Gallery
The Quardagurgle – this makes the strangest sound!
An elaborate water wheel
Our last stop on the south east coast was at the Moeraki Boulders. These unusual but supposedly naturally formed boulders are almost perfectly spherical and range from 0.5 to whopping 2.2 meters high!
Next stop: Wanaka, New Zealand
Si Phan Don (which translates to “The 4000 Islands”) is a riverine archipelago in the south of Laos bordering with neighboring Cambodia. The islands are divided by the mighty Mekong river which is so vast it feels like you are surrounded by sea. Palm trees, wooden bungalows on stilts and the occasional sandbank beach line the island’s perimeter; it certainly has a tropical island feel. At 35 degrees, it is also much hotter here than in Northern Laos where we had been putting on extra layers for the evenings.
There are two main islands visited by tourists Don Det and Don Khon. We stayed on Don Khon which is larger and quieter than the more frequently visited Don Det. Both islands have a very relaxed vibe and you could easily spend days chilling in a hammock and admiring the views. The islands are connected by an old railway bridge which was used to transport goods and passengers over the waterfalls and across the Mekong. We explored both islands by bike, stopping off at the impressive Li Phi waterfall on the way.
On Christmas Day we took a boat out on the Mekong to see the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. The Irrawaddy dolphins proved to be pretty elusive, but we did manage to catch a glimpse of a few dolphins in the distance.
Next stop: Hanoi, Vietnam