Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dolphin Swim - Akaroa, New Zealand

I'M BACK!! I have wifi in my new hostel in downtown Buenos Aires so Its back to the blog. I know now that I will never get fully up to date with it before I go home in 3 weeks but as I have no job to go back to and the world has gone to pot in the time I have been away I am sure I will have plenty of time to finish it off when I get back (of course I can go off and do some more travelling as well!)

First I forgot to add in the glossary update from my last post:

Glossary update:

Woofing is an acronym which stands for ‘Willing Workers On Organic Farms’. Its an organisation primarily set up initially in Australia as a way of working for room and board on organic farms (obviously). Nowadays its used not only for organic farms in Australia but also in other countries and for other things – in the case of Chillawhile people were just working for their board through Woofing – most hostels have some of their guests doing cleaning and maintenance jobs for their keep anyway.

Here’s the website if your interested - except its now called Worldwide opportunities on Organic Farms (make up your bloody mind!)

Back to Akaroa:

7th - 8th Feb

Akaroa is a small seaside village about 70km south of Christchurch on the Banks peninsula. On the other side of the peninsula is Lyttleton the place I looked down on from the the top of the Christchurch Gondola. The Banks peninsula is actually the remnants of an extinct volcano and if you looked at it from above you could see the conical shape of the area.

I arrived in Akaroa just after 3pm on Saturday to a town full of weekend day trippers. I had not booked any place before arriving so was quite lucky to get a bed in the first hostel I tried called Le Bons Bay.

I was shown to my dorm by a middle aged English woman. It turned out that both her and her husband were themselves woofing in the hostel. In fact they were sleeping in the room next to my dorm. Nothing too weird about that except that in order to get to my dorm I had to go through their room! The whole place had too much of an old feel to it – which was confirmed by my bed linen which not only included sheets and a duvet but also a pair of slippers and a hot water bottle!

My OAP bed linen

I quickly got out of the place and did a roam around the town. First port of call was the dolphin place on the pier to confirm my booking for the following day. I wanted to make damn sure that I was going on this dolphin swim.

After that I walked around the area but quickly exhausted all the sights so I headed for one of the pubs for some grub and a pint. Once I had finished the grub (a healthy sausage egg and chips!) I did a bit more walking and happened upon of all things a sulphur crested cockatoo in one of the trees – not your normal New Zealand bird.

A weird garden - someone has a foot fetish!


I tried to stay out of the hostel for as long as possible which meant trying to get a compromise between drinking and having a clear head in the morning. The second bar I ended up in was showing the final of the Wellington sevens rugby tournament between New Zealand and England. It was a frantic game which England won in the very last play of the game much to the disgust of everyone in the bar.

Finally I went back to the hostel, through the English couples room (thankfully they were asleep) and into my own dorm which already had 2 or 3 other young people in bed.

Early the next day I got up and out for the dolphin swim. Swimming with dolphins is one of those 101 things to do before you die and this was my second attempt at it. I even paid for a cheap plastic camera with underwater casing – similar to the throw away ones you get but with the advantage that you could actually use it again and again with new films.

Unfortunately DM could not come with me as I might lose him :(

We were soon on our way fully kitted out with wetsuit mask and snorkel. It wasn’t long before we seen our first dolphins – 2 or 3 of them. Boy were they small! Unfortunately these ones were too intent on feeding to bother with us. For the next 2 or 3 sightings it was the same thing – the dolphins came and had a look then swam away.

Finally a group of them decided to hang around and we were in business. We quickly got in the water (there were about 8 of us swimming) and waited for them to come up close. Some people were given stones to knock together in order to make sound waves in the water.

The next 40 minutes (that’s how long you are allowed in the water with them) were probably some of the most comical in my life. These tiny dolphins (about 1,5 metres) were darting in between our group while everyone was trying to get photographs of them. There were only about 10 in total but sometimes it just seemed that every time I looked one way the dolphin would appear just behind me. I actually thought it was like a scene out of a bad pantomime – he’s behind you – no he isn’t – Yes he is.

The experience did not turn out to be the life changing event I had anticipated. For one thing the dolphins were just too quick and the water was too murky to get a good look at them underwater. For another thing my photos when I got them developed turned out to be probably the worst shots anybody could ever take. My only excuse is that with digital cameras these days I am used to having what I see in the view finder on the actual photo. This camera was the old type – view finder at the top, lens in the middle. This resulted in great shots of my fingers!

Worst underwater shots ever

I have to say I still loved the experience and would do it again – with a bloody good underwater camera this time!

Things I have learnt:

Even if you are ‘touching cloth’ as I was after my swim it pays to make sure there are urinals in the public toilets you have just entered. I did not and soon realised I had inadvertently gone into the women’s toilets. (the sanitary towel bucket was another giveaway). Before I could rectify my mistake two Kiwi girls came in to go to the loo. I had images of myself being carted off in a police van to the sex offenders centre so I decided to just sit it out (literally). The two girls both went to separate cubicles – one right beside me – then proceeded to shout a full conversation while ‘doing the business’ – I thought they would never shut up! Eventually they left and I quickly cleaned up (wiped my arse) and ran into the men’s loo so that I could wash up and cooly exit the facilities as if nothing had happened.

Featured Animal:

Hectors Dolphin.

The dolphins I was swimming with are called Hectors Dolphin. It is only found in New Zealand is the smallest dolphin in the world and pretty rare with only about 7,000 in existence. Thankfully New Zealand has set up marine reserves in areas were they are most common – like the Banks peninsula.

Hectors dolphin

There is also a subspecies called the maui dolphin which inhabits just one area in the north island. This species is one of the rarest dolphins in the world with little over 100 specimens. With that number things do not look good for its survival as it only takes 2-5 deaths a year from boating accidents or net entanglements to produce a reduction in the numbers.

More info

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