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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 2

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

Day 15 – Whale Watch Day

It’s Whale Watch day, and we’re at the Whaleway Station (which is also the railway station) in plenty of time to check in and pay for our trip. The trip organisers keep us occupied with a video until the coach is ready to take us to the quay for departure. Being a less-than-good sailor, Chris takes a couple of seasickness tablets before we get on the coach.

Eventually we are marshalled onto the boat and we ease out of the harbour. As we make our way, both the distance to the whale grounds and the height of the sea have increased! Various announcements have told us that the whales are “a couple of miles off shore”, then “three miles away”, and finally “four miles from the coast”. The swell has gone from “1 – 2 metres”, to “a little over 2 metres”, to “3 metres and greater”. 3 metres is over 10 feet!!! Both are bad news for Chris – longer travel times and bigger seas. As the journey proceeds, the boat (which is not that big) is thrown from side to side and up and down on what our guide calls, “a fairly calm South Pacific Ocean”.

WhaleWatch Kaikoura – our trip organisers operate four boats, two helicopters and a plane on their whale watching activities. This is very handy because the helicopter and plane can radio whale locations to the boats should they spot any. As luck would have it, the helicopter has a sighting and we speed to the site. Chris is pretty ill by now, and by the time we reach the whale she is being sick into one of the plentiful sick bags. She is not alone; I see at least 3 others with their heads in bags.

The whale is at the surface. We are hold that they dive for between 20 and 30 minutes, and stay on the surface for 5 to 10, “getting their breath back”. The whale floats on the surface, occasionally sending up a huge spray from its blow-hole. Eventually it pushes forward, aches it back and dives! The last sight of it is as it goes vertical and puts its tail into the air – “snap” – a good photo I hope.

About 8 passengers, all looking a bit green and being sick into bags have now joined Chris. The crew are kept busy relaying full bags to the bins and supplying tissues and new bags to the victims. But, everyone stands up to see the whale despite their discomfort.

There’s another whale. We all get seated and the boat speeds off again. It’s the same procedure as before – whale on the surface recovering from a dive, push forward, ached back, tail in the air and “snap”, “snap”, “snap”. By the time this whale has dived, the first one is on the surface again, so we speed back for a second look before heading for the shore to see if there are any dolphins about.

As luck would have, there are about 30 Dusky Dolphins in the bay, close to Kaikoura. They entertain us by jumping, breaking the surface and swimming under the boat, then it’s time to head back to the harbour. This couldn’t happen a minute too soon for Chris …. She’s seen all the whales and the dolphins, but from the relative warmth of the cabin. It’s been $50 well spent for me, but I’m not sure Chris would agree it was good value for money?

We go straight back to the motel where Chris takes to her bed for a couple of hours and I write up my journal. Chris is up and about again by 4-30 and we take a stroll to i-Site to book the ferry back to the North Island for the 6th March. Here we also hear that there is a two-week long flower festival in Christchurch and we resolve to ring ahead for accommodation.

We take a long walk through the town and back along the SH-1 to a point before it enters Kaikoura. Now, the SH-1 is nothing like the M1 even though it’s the backbone ‘motorway’ that runs the length of NZ. At Kaikoura, it’s a two-lane road with a cycling track on one side and a parking strip on the other. There are small houses, shops, cafes, motels and a few business premises strung along the sides, together with the local wool and needlecraft shop, a camp site and the local drama group’s hall. It’s all very quaint.

On our return to town, Chris has recovered sufficiently to think about food, so we stop off for an early dinner. Chris has soup and bread, and I have spare ribs with spicy wedges and a sweet chilli sauce; all washed down with a Guinness. We’re back at our motel by 7-30 and book a motel for Christchurch for the next three nights (Friday, Saturday and Sunday).

As of today, we are two days ahead of the schedule we planned back in the UK. Since we would otherwise only be in Christchurch on the day we take the TranzAlpine train trip, we have booked an extra day to see the sights and relax – well, Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest.

Day 16 – Travel to Christchurch (ChCh)

It’s only 150 miles to ChCh, so we have a leisurely drive up the coast today. We stop at a small town called Domett; well, it’s not really a town, it’s a place the train used to stop in the past (but not any more). The train station has been turned into a café, so we stop for a snack. The café is wonderful – everything is homemade. The chef takes the orders and prepares the food, and his wife serves it, clears tables and takes the money. Chris has a croque monsieur and I have toasted homemade wholemeal bread and jams.

We get to ChCh and find our motel; taking care to get the right one per the proprietor’s telephone instructions. It’s called the Addington Stadium Motel – close-by there are also the Addington Court Motel and the Addington City Motel, and apparently people are always getting them mixed up. I wonder why? Anyway, it must be true because at about 9pm that night, a pizza deliveryman knocked our door trying to give us a pizza – he left scratching his head (and getting splinters up his nails I suspect).

Having un-packed, and since it’s only 2pm, we head off to the city for a look around. ChCh could be an English town. It’s built in an ‘old’ style, all the street names are English, the River Avon runs through the centre, and there are flowers and gardens everywhere. We take the 30-minute tram tour of the city, starting and ending in Cathedral Square, and then look around the jewellery stalls that are set up there. It’s all calm and tranquillity.

After a quick return to the motel, and a wash and brush up, we’re on our way back to the centre for dinner. I find some free parking at the side of park near the city centre and we have a short walk alongside the River Avon before picking out Rydges Restaurant for our meal. Chris has a sirloin steak and I have the rack of lamb, all washed down with the usual bottle of good NZ wine.

ChCh is quite a big city by NZ standards (third largest) and we’re new to it. What is more we parked a little outside the centre and it’s now dark. We can’t find the car! But, after a lot of fluffing around and false leads, we find it and are ‘home’ again by 10pm. We have a 7-40 start in the morning, so I set the alarm for the ludicrously early time of 6-45.

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