Seals & Penguins & Whales, Oh My!
After experiencing the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson, we were heading south to Dunedin where we would have the opportunity to view the habitats of the Royal Albatross and rare Yellow-Eyed Penguins. From there we would work our way back to Christchurch to spend the final days of our trip. Well, Mother Nature had another plan. On Saturday, September 4 at approximately 4:30AM, Christchurch was hit by a 7.1 earthquake!
Seismic activity is not unusual for New Zealand. Roughly 26 million years ago, the land that makes up New Zealand was formed by volcanic activity and continuous movements along fault lines. As a matter of fact, New Zealand is regularly shaken by earthquakes but most are minor and it is not something to usually worry about. Before the recent quake in Christchurch, the last major quake was back in 1932 in Napier. The good news regarding the Christchurch quake is that no one was killed and clean-up and “normalizing” residents took place immediately. However, with all that said, we wanted to avoid Christchurch while they work to get themselves back together. So, we still went off to Dunedinbut then worked our way back up the coast to Kaikoura for whale watching.
The Otago Peninsula – Dunedin’s Wildlife Area
The primary reason to visit the Otago Peninsula is the amazing variety of marine wildlife. At the very tip – Taiaroa Head, there is a protected area where several sea mammals and seabirds congregate. Unique among these are the royal albatross which breeds in the area and is the only mainland colony of albatross in the world. Also concentrated in the area are the rare yellow eyed penguins. We visited both The Albatross Center and the nature reserve for the penguins called Penguins Place. While it was fascinating to see both the albatross and penguins in their natural setting, it was also very cold and dreary. If it weren’t for the wildlife, I could have skipped Dunedin. In comparison to the rest of our trip, this was my least favorite place.
Kaikoura – Colorado with an Ocean!
I LOVED Kaikoura. It’s a very small town; however, it is a stunningly beautiful seaside town with a majestic snow covered mountain range (The Kaikoura Range). It reminded me of my home state of Colorado with its beautiful snow-capped mountains. The only difference, OK, a major difference, is the ocean, fur seals and whales! And we saw both!
We took a 3 hour whale watching
tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura
. Very cool! We saw 3 sperm whales
. They are huge! After whale watching
we headed off to the Kaikoura Peninsula
where we took a beautiful 2 ½ hour hike that followed a limestone cliff with magnificent views of the ocean on one side below us and the Kaikoura Mountain Range
on the other side of us. It was a great hike that took us full circle from the peninsula to South Bay
and back. The peninsula is home to a large fur seal colony
. We spent a long time both at the beginning and end of our hike marveling at the fur seals
that were close enough to touch. Many were just “lying around” on the rocks and beach while the more active fur seals
swam and played in their own “private” pools of water. They are entertaining to watch and very cute! And for an added bonus, about 30 kilometers north Kaikoura
, right off of Hwy 1, is a short 10 minute walk to Ohau Waterfall
. As we walked back to the waterfall, we found baby fur seals
playing in the stream. Once we reached the waterfall, we watched at least 20 or more baby seals
playing in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. It was like watching children at play. They were jumping in the water and wrestling with each other. It was hard to believe that we were not in a zoo looking at a display versus being in the midst of a beautiful fern and pine forest! What a treat!