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Grogan Teek Travels

Dolphins and Penguins and Snow, Oh My!

NEW ZEALAND | Thursday, 17 April 2008 | Views [632]

David’s parents have been visiting from Florida and my sister Pam just arrived, so we decided it was time for another road trip. We hopped on a plane and made the quick flight to Christchurch on the South Island.  From there we made a 90 minute drive to the coast to a cute little French-inspired town called Akaroa.


Akaroa (it means long harbour) was first settled by the French around 1840s. This caused the British to rush down there and claim the area for England, worried that that France would establish ownership in the area. Think of the timing – that was 65 years AFTER the U.S. had declared independence. 


It is a cute little town, and I do mean little. The permanent population is less than 600 people, though that swells considerably on weekends.  The streets have French names and the architecture is different from the very British Christchurch. It takes less than half an hour to walk from one side to another. We went to the little lighthouse and happened to be there when it was open so got to explore inside.


The region (called the Banks Peninsula) was formed by two volcanoes about a half a million years ago. The harbor is long and protected and one of the few places in the world (all the places are in NZ) where you can find Hector’s dolphins.  This is one of the smallest species of dolphins and what is really cool is that we went swimming with them!


Swimming in the Pacific, even in a harbor, is different than swimming in the Atlantic.  Having grown up on the beach in Florida, ocean swimming is nothing new, but never before required a wetsuit and boots!  But we dutifully suited up then went off on the boat.  As we looked for dolphins (since they are wild they aren’t just waiting for us in an assigned area) you could see the beautiful hills, caves along the harbor walls and the water splashing into the rocks.  The first dolphins we saw were mothers with calves, so they didn’t want to play. 


Just as we reached the mouth of the harbor a couple pf dolphins showed up. They seemed happy to see us and played alongside the boat.  Ten swimmers hopped into the cold water and spread out.  Sure enough the dolphins came to play.  I felt a little like one of those orange cones on a bicycle track as the dolphins swerved in between the people.  Two more showed up and played in front of the boat as it circled our group.


The neat thing about the experience was that the dolphins were there because they wanted to play.  There was no trainer giving them fish or blowing a whistle and they could leave whenever they wanted.  Instead, they chose to just have some fun, swimming with funny people wearing black rubber clothes.  We would float in the water then out of nowhere two dolphins, sometimes all four, would appear right next to you. They seemed to have no fear of the people and happily swam between us to get a good look at everyone. Very cool (and pretty cold!)


After the dolphins it was back to the bach for a fire and some steaks on the grill. A bach, you may remember from other posts, is usually a second home or weekend retreat that you rent from an individual through a service. This one was particularly nice, with all the comforts. The backyard had a little spring running through it, complete with its own bridge, and a main house plus an extra “sleep out” room. 


The next day we returned to Christchurch to wander through the botanic gardens and museum then visited the Antarctic Center.  Our poor little deprived Florida children have never really seen snow, except a patch of old icy stuff during a summertime visit to Vermont a few years ago.  They were very interested in the storm room.  You bundle up in coats and go inside a very cold room where there is an ice slide, and snow on the ground. Then they start up the storm machine and the wind blows and the temperature drops and you get very cold. 


The Center also has a penguin sanctuary for blue penguins.  Most had been injured by boats or other animals.  One was blind, another had a paralyzed wing and others had different problems.  Check out the cool pictures!


Dave’s folks have been exploring Wellington and depart for home this weekend.  Next week we drag Pam up to Auckland to mix a little business with pleasure. Who know what adventure is next.




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