We pulled into Kaikoura in the early afternoon. Kaikoura is a small seaside village with a high street of shops, bars and restaurants parallel to the beach. The main appeal of this stop is it's access to aquatic entounters such as spotting seals, wale watching and swimming with wild Dusky Dolphins.
The latter activity has been one of the items at the top of my bucket list for a while, so I had been particularly looking forward to this stop since the beginning of the Kiwi Experience tour. On the way to Kaikoura the usual clipboard made it's way around the bus for us to sign up to the activities we wanted to participate in.
The company running the tour is called Dolphin Encounter and they offer two types of encounters - watching the dolphins from the boat or swimming with them in the sea. I obviously opted for swimming with the dolphins which set me back $170 . The tour runs 3 times a day at 5:30am, 8:30am and 12:30pm. Not having had a lay in for weeks I had my heart set on the 12:30pm tour, but, to my dismay by the time the clipboard made it's way to the back of the bus where I was seated (why you should sit at the front of the bus Kids!) all the places on the afternoon tour had been snapped up.
Little did I know that as I sulked about having to wake up at silly o'clock, the universe had conspired to give me one of the best experiences of my life. That afternoon, myself and a group of girls who were going to be on the same tour as me went for a nice walk on the beach, had dinner together and all opted for an early night with the knowledge that our alarm was going off at 4:30 am the next day.
The Dolphin Encounter Tour
The alarm woke me up at 4:30am, I had been pretty organised the night before and packed all my bags as we were due to to leave Kaikoura straight after the tour. As traumatising as it was to wake up at that time of day, I actually really enjoyed the walk to the Dolphin Encounter office in the crisp morning air.
Once we arrived at the office, we checked in, were given snorkelling equipment (wetsuit, fins, mask and snorkel) and were shown an introductory/safety video before boarding a bus to the boat.
By the time we got to the boat, the sun was beginning to break through the horizon, shades of orange and red fragmented the sky like shards of coloured glass cutting their way out of the darkness. The sea was completely still, almost as if effortfully trying not to disrupt it's reflection of the magic unfolding above. It was one of the most mesmerising views I have ever seen.
The boat cruised out for about 30 to 40 minutes before we spotted the first couple of playful Dusky Dolphins splashing around. The closer the boat got to the Dolphin pod, the more fins could be seen poking through the water's surface. Eventually a dozen of them started to race against the boat, splashing and jumping out of the water in a series of acrobatic displays.
The captain finally gave us the news we were all patiently waiting for - It was time to JUMP IN THE WATER! We were told that the best way to attract the Dolphins is to make as much noise as possible because they are intrigued by sounds.
We all excitedly jumped in singing, quacking and making all sorts of noises I didn't even think the human could produce with the hope that our vocal performances were good enough to tempt the Dolphins into playing with us. It took a few minutes, but eventually those cheeky flippers couldn't stay away from my rendition of 'Con tè partirò' by Andrea Bocielli and 'Timber' by Pitbull. God knows what possessed me to choose those songs, but it worked! One after the other the dolphins started to swim next to me, around me, under me - It was hands down the most magical encounter I have ever had. At no point did I feel unsafe or afraid, all I felt was complete and total joy.
We jumped back on the boat and repeated the same process at another location, before returning to Kaikoura. As I sipped on hot chocolate and looked out at the 200 strong pod of Dolphins swimming freely in their natural habitat, against a backdrop of a multicoloured sky, I felt completely overwhelmed. Actual tears of joy made their way down my face - I can't even remember the last time I cried from Joy (If ever!)
The realisation of how fortune I am to be able to witness and experience such beauty hit me all at once. Once you have been travelling for a while and are constantly surrounded by beautiful places, it is easy to become almost apathetic towards new sites. This trip however gave me the wake up call I needed. After 4 weeks of exploring New Zealand I thought that I had seen all the beauty that this country has to offer, but how wrong I was!
With another item ticked off my bucket list and a renewed thirst to actively experience and enjoy new places, I look forward to all that still awaits me.