BootsnAll Travel Network

Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed..

As most people have experienced at some point while traveling, the weather can have a huge impact on your time spent in a certain place; what activities you do, how much a city appeals to you, etc. A much needed beach holiday can basically ruined by rain, as much as a skiing holiday can be a waste of money by lack of snow. Since it is an uncontrollable aspect of any day, traveling or not, you have to have some sort of back-up plan if the weather doesn’t cooperate. Unfortunately, if you’ve already paid for a certain tour or activity, and they do not factor in weather conditions, how much you enjoy that experience is really up to you.

I spent four days in Christchurch, as I wanted a couple days of down time since my last two weeks in New Zealand will be chock full. The day after the Super Bowl I had nothing much planned, so I wandered around Christchurch, taking in some free sites like the art gallery, a really cool art complex with shops and galleries and another Botanical Gardens and museum. In an attempt to save a little money, I wandered around the art complex to do some browsing, and unfortunately for my bank account, wandered into a jewelry store. Since I have very little extra room in my backpack and shipping things home costs a bundle here, there are very few things that I can really buy here. Jewelry is one of them, and I found a couple really great pieces. There was also some fantastic artwork, pottery and woodwork, but heavy or breakable things are really difficult to buy when backpacking, especially at the beginning of a trip. At the Botanical Gardens, I bumped into Randy and Julie from my wine tour in Nelson. It was there last day in New Zealand, as they were just here for work, but we went out to dinner together before their flight home. Since I hadn’t gotten their information after I left the tour, it was a nice surprise to see them. While it is great meeting new people all the time, it is also really nice to see people you already know in some way. Every traveler has their “story” that they need to tell people when they first meet, ie where they are from, how long they are traveling, what they did for a job, etc. It can get kind of tiresome sometimes, and it’s nice when people already know your “story,” and you can just have regular conversations.

After my spending bonanza at the art center, I went into the information center to book my bus ticket to the next town. I also decided sort of the last minute to go on my first Lord of the Rings activity. There are many,many choices when it comes to LOTR stuff here, and this particular tour was supposed to be good not only for die-hard fans, but also people who have never seen the movies, as it takes in some spectacular scenery. New Zealand has similar weather to the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been pretty lucky so far to only have had two days of rain in over a month of travel. Unfortunately, I completely jinxed myself by announcing this to everyone who complained about the weather, and I paid for it the next day.

The tour bus picked me up at 9am, and we had about a 2 hour drive before we reached our destination, Edoras. King Theoden’s hall in The Two Towers was an actual set built into a rocky outcrop called Mt. Sunday, which is really just a rocky hill surrounded by mountains. They were originally going to have to use a blue screen for this, as they couldn’t find a location to suit the book’s description. But the location scouts found this place by accident almost, and since it sits on private land, paid the farmers out for a years amount of work. The set took 8 months to build, during some winter months, and they had to actually put in roads and bridges to get to this outcrop in the middle of these mountains and around a river. It is a beautiful location, regardless of whether you’ve seen the movies or not, and you really have to go on a tour to climb onto this hill, since they have permission from the landowners. Plus, you need a 4 wheel drive to navigate the braided river channels.

It had been raining all morning in Christchurch, but when we got out into the countryside, it stopped and the sun peaked through in certain spots. However, once we reached “Edoras,” the clouds came back and basically the minute we reached the top, it started pouring on us. It was really a shame, as this was the highlight of the tour, and it was almost impossible to take pictures since it was raining so hard. The tour company even brought props for us to use, like swords and axes and things to pose with, and we were just all miserable and soaked. There isn’t really anything you can do about it, and like anything, you just have to enjoy the experience the best you can. We had lunch at a closed ski lodge and made our way back to Christchurch. All in all, I wouldn’t say my experience was worth the money, but will nice weather it would definitely have been worth the drive and time out there.

The rain followed me up the East coast to the small town of Kaikoura.  The town lies very close to a huge ocean trench, and it is very rare for one that deep to be that close to land. The amount of sealife that passes through that trench from the warmer waters south to the Antarctic and back is astounding.  Kaikoura is a wildlife-lovers paradise, and they offer everything from swimming with seals to whale watching and feeding sea birds. But I came here for one reason; to swim with the dolphins.

There is one tour operator that does this in Kaikoura, and it fills up weeks ahead of time. A lot of travelers hate to book things ahead of time in case their plans change, but if this is on your list of must-dos and you are here during the high season, you have to book ahead. The Dept. of Conservation has strict controls over how many boats and people can go out every day, and they don’t make exceptions. So I booked my spot a week ago, and while it’s easier when you are just one person, the girl who checked me in told me they are sold out for the next 5 days. When I checked in this morning, they give you a wetsuit and offer a safety video, reminding you these are wild dolphins and you swimming in an open ocean. The first thing that came to mind was sharks, but dolphins and sharks tend to avoid each other somehow so that relaxed me a bit. The dolphins we were swimming with were Dusky dolphins, which are grey and have some white streaks and darker grey spots on them. They are also known for being big “performers,” jumping and doing flips and somersaults. There is also a company in Christchurch where you can swim with Hector’s dolphins, the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world. But I chose Kaikoura, but you are almost guaranteed to not only see dolphins but see enough of them to swim. They are so abundant that you are refunded your money if you don’t find any.

The ocean swells were really high this morning, and I’ve never been out in the ocean that far before, where you couldn’t really see land. It was a little disconcerting at first and took a while to forget about the fact you are in the middle of the ocean. Once the boat blew the horn, the people who had paid to swim with the dolphins were allowed in the water. There is nothing like the first time a wild dolphin swims right next to you. It completely scares you and exhilarates you at the same time. Most of us are taught at some point in our lives, that if something swims past you in the ocean, that is probably not a good thing and swim as fast as you can back to the boat. But here we were, twenty of us in wetsuits and snorkels, trying to swim closer to these wild animals. We were also singing and making lots of weird noises, as dolphins are attracted to sound and we had to do whatever we could to keep them entertained, unlike captive dolphins, where they keep us entertained.

Since the dolphins are always on the move, we had to get back in the boat a couple of time and they took us a bit further out, and then dropped us back in the water. The sea was really rough, and about half our boat was seasick at that point. I am lucky that I don’t really get seasick, but even I was starting to not feel so great after a while. The second time we were in the water, I got more used to the snorkel and the swells, and concentrated on getting the dolphins’ attention. It totally freaked me out the first time one swam up from behind me right past me. When you have your head in the water looking down and a gray shape zooms past you, it is very startling. But I was able to swim around with a few of them for quite some time, makes noises and acting “dolphin-like.”  We are instructed not to move our arms a lot or try to touch them, because they tend to shy away from you then, and just kick with our legs, trying to splash as little as possible. I swear, there were times I really thought I made eye contact with them and they looked right at me. They are amazing animals and there were times where there about 30 or 40 of them swimming all around us. It was by far my favorite thing I have done so far.

There is not much else to do in Kaikoura aside from these types of tours, and though I chose my hostel specifically because it has a pool, it isn’t warm enough to swim today really. I also wanted to do a whale watching tour, but funds are getting tight and I have to start prioritizing. I still haven’t made it on a horse trek yet, my plans keep falling through for various reasons. I heard from Bhupesh, the English guy on my glacier walk, who did a LOTR horse trek near Queenstown, so I think I might fork out for that and kill two birds with one stone. I am getting picked up tonight by a friend of my Australian friend Denika’s. I am spending the weekend at her house in Blenheim, a town in the Marlborough region,the biggest wine region in New Zealand. There is a big wine festival tomorrow, and she has kindly offered me a place to stay. Since she works on a vineyard as well, that should offer a little local flavor you don’t often come by. Hopefully the rain will not follow me up there, but if does, a little rain can’t put the damper on a weekend of wine and frolicking with dolphins.

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One response to “Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed..”

  1. Sharon says:

    Hi Kirsten!

    Read this post about swimming with the dolphins to Jaclyn. A dolphin is her favorite animal and she is learning about them in school. I am going to print out the section on the dolphins as Jaclyn wants to take it to school so her teacher “Mrs. Dunn” can read it to the class. She wants to know if the dolphins look shiney. Not sure what that means. Remember, she is only 7. I have a lot of catching up to do on the blog. Everything I have read so far sounds incredible!
    Enjoy and stay safe.


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