New Zealand: Whalewatching and Hanmer Springs

Planning our day

Our original plan had been to spend the day in Kaikoura but after talking to the campsite owner we saw that we'd have enough time to go whalewatching and have a nice relaxed drive to Hanmer Springs. Although it had not been on our original list of places to see a few people had recommended it and we also thought it would be good to reduce the driving on the following day (when we planned to go to Greymouth).

When we consulted the campsite owner as to what to do she was empahtic "take the scenic road to Hanmer Springs". We did mention that the alternative was to spend another night in her campsite (i.e. more income for her) but she was quite clear that the best option was drive on!

That decided we went to Whale Watch Kaikoura, which was on the other side of the railway tracks but in order to cross the tracks we had to go back to the main road and down a bit.


Kaikoura beach

Given the rain the night before we'd been a bit nervous about the visibility but the day had dawned clear and bright. We picked up for our tickets and were warned that there was a 2m swell but that anti-seasickness remedies were for sale in the gift shop. Joel already had his "Queaz-Away" sea bands and we picked up another pair for Cristina.

With a bit of a wait before we were driven to the boat we decided to take advantage of the fine weather and had breakfast in the cafe sitting out in the sun. While we were relaxing afterwards we heard a couple speaking Catalan and we soon got talking. Jordi and Laia (you'd never guess they were Catalan) were in New Zealand for their honeymoon and were also renting a camper. We were chatting away when we were called in for our pre-departure briefing.

The briefing was well done tying together all aspects of the trip from local history, Maori culture to safety and logistics! Afterwards we boarded a bus for the short trip to the harbour. Once on board we were given a more extensive safety briefing which also included the phrase "you all have free paper bags in the seat pocket, please use as many as you like - they are included in the price of the ticket".

There she blows!

As we headed out into the Pacific we could feel the boat starting to move with the ocean, this was especially noticeable when the captain started to race toward a possible whale. Our quarry for the day - the sperm whale - only surfaces for 15 minutes every two hours making speed a requirement in order to see them.

Admiring our first whale

The care that was taken in order not to disturb these magnificant mammals was also notable, we approached from behind and slowed considerably until we were at rest, then it was time for the mad scramble out to admire the whale.

Once the whale dived again we all rushed back inside in order to speed off to another possible sighting. In the end we were able to see four sperm whales, we were told that they aim for two and hope for three so we were very lucky.

First whale dives Second whale dives Third whale dives Fourth whale dives

After the fourth the crew held a quick conference and opted to show us some other examples of marine life. There was a school of Hector Dolphins closer to shore so while we rocketed (and rocked) towards them we were shown a very informative video on the various types of marine life found in New Zealand. At least we imagine it was very informative, we were both keeping our gaze fixed on the horizon. Others around us didn't have our experience with combating seasickness (or perhaps it was the sea bands) and apart from green faces there were quite a few using considerable quantities of paper bags.

Hector Dolphins at play

The rush out the door was notably more muted this time but it was worth the discomfort as we had about eight dolphins around us performing various aquatic acrobatics.

Our time seemed to run out too quickly and we soon had to return inside for the final trip back to port. Although we were very happy to be back on solid land again we couldn't help but feel sorry that the trip was over.

On to Hanmer Springs

We said "Adeu!" to Jordi and Laia and headed off - as recommended - via the scenic route to Hanmer Springs. We hadn't gone more than five kilometres before we realised why it had been so highly recommended. Apart from the snow capped mountains in the background (and sometimes in the foreground) we passed through pasture land, river valleys, pine forests and alpine meadows, all illuminated in the golden sunshine.

Kaikoura mountains Barren hillsides River valley

Once we arrived in Hanmer Springs we were equally impressed, it had a lovely small town feel and we could see that the campsite was just a five minute walk from the centre. We decided to take advantage of the daylight and before heading to the campsite we had a late lunch in one of the many excellent cafes before taking a short walk around the centre.

Cris with some leaves

We then headed to the campsite and parked up but soon headed back into town for a glass of wine in one of the bars. The bartender recommended a fantastic merlot and we sat in a quiet corner for a few relaxed hours before heading back to be under a bright starlit night.

Before we drifted off to sleep we both agreed that it was a good idea to pass through Hanmer Springs even if we didn't take advantage of the famous thermal baths.

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