On Saturday we crossed the Cook Strait on another beautiful blue sky day. Unfortunately the winds on the strait were true to form and they were so strong that sitting outside was unbearable for more than a few minutes. The boat was very comfortable inside, with lots of seating areas and a big screen for movies. They showed 'Ten things I hate about you' and 'Kangaroo Jack' - two terrible, terrible hollywood films.
After landfall we immediately drove a few hours south on state highway 1. The country's main road is as narrow and windy in some places as roads to ski areas at home. We arrived in Kaikoura, a beautiful old fishing village (now one of NZ's main tourist towns) set on a peninsula with a backdrop of huge mountains, just in time for the standby roll call for our dolphin swim. We had called on the 16th and the earliest available slot was for the 29th! Luckily we got in off the wait list for the 5:30am swim the following day.
We didn't want to drive far out of town and have a long drive back at dawn, and we ended up staying just outside of town by the water directly next to a sign saying 'No camping.' Actually, the sign only had an image of a tent with an X thru it so we thought, 'We don't have a tent, we'll be fine!' We asked a couple of locals if the cops cruise around looking for campervans and it looked like they might die laughing. It turned out to be fine. Another van had joined us by the time we woke up at 4:45.
It was yet another beautiful day, and the trip got off to an exciting start with sightings of more orcas (killer whales) than the skipper had ever seen. We also saw a few seals rolling around on the surface. Dolphins tend to stay away from orcas though, and for a while there were no sightings and we were getting worried that we'd be unsuccessful. Then all of a sudden, the crew said, 'Alright suit up everyone, in ya go.' We donned our snorkels and fins and jumped in. The water was about 15 degrees celsius, cold but not cold enough to need a neoprene hood. Before long tons of dolphins were swimming around us. Duskies are a relatively small species, at 1.8 meters average length. Their beauty and grace is indescribable. It is an amazing feeling to be in the water with them. Some will just swim right by, but others will playfully swim in circles around you. They will pay more attention to you if you make noise as you swim so the water was full of people making all sorts of funny squeaks and squacks! The dolphin action was not as nonstop as Raime remembers it from three years ago (when he did it for college credit!), but Kate reported mostly nonstop interactions with curious friendly dolphins. We had two swims with them and then we climbed out to watch them give us a show (duskies are the most acrobatic of dolphin species, we saw a bunch of full somersaults). It was a perfect morning.
We headed out of Kaikoura back the way we came bound for the small city of Nelson. When we were in Munich in July we met a very nice girl named Sarah who grew up here. She said she might not be home but her parents love visitors so we should drop by. Well it turns out she is here, along with her parents and five family friends! But they have been very welcoming to us in true Kiwi fashion and have fed us very well. The live in a gorgeous spot about a quarter mile from the shore about 10 minutes north of Nelson, and there are miles of mountains visible across the Tasman Bay. It's been a lot of fun to be around a bunch of Kiwis laughing at the absurdities of NZ and the US. We went into very laid-back Nelson for a few hours today, and other than that did laundry and a lot of hanging around. Tomorrow we'll drive north to Abel Tasman National Park, and hopefully begin a two-day kayak trip on Wednesday.