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Kaikoura – A Swim With The Dolphins

February 23, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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Our trip to New Zealand concluded in the magical little town of Kaikoura. The rich marine environment of the Kaikoura peninsula allowed us to see magnificent killer and sperm whales, experience close encounters in the seal colonies, and swim with the playful dusky dolphins in their natural environment. I have been dying to share this amazing place with you, so sit down and submerge yourself into this surreal experience with me through your computers.

In Kaikoura, meaning “feast of crayfish” in the Maori language, mountains meet the sea. Less than a mile off shore the sea’s floor sharply drops creating the vertical walls of the Kaikoura Canynon. The rich marine environment of this area is due to it’s unusually deep waters close to shore and which, combined with a mix of warm and cold ocean currents, provides nutrient filled waters supporting an abundance of marine life ranging from the very top of the food chain all the way down to the bottom.

This little town is famously known for being a home to extraordinary marine life, the most famous being the Giant Sperm Whale. So as our first experience in Kaikoura we decided to go whale watching. On our boat ride out into the peninsula we were told Orca (also known as the killer whale) had just been spotted, and they would try their best to make it out there before they were gone. Seeing as this was a rare time of year for Orca to be in the peninsula, they couldn’t promise anything. Amazingly enough we were able to catch up with them and had the great opportunity of seeing a group of ten to twelve Orca traveling through the waters. We even got to see an adorable baby Orca swim with its mother. While I could have sat there all day watching them swim through the water, we had to go find the Giant Sperm Whale before it dived down to the bottom of the ocean. Sperm Whales will stay in the deepest parts of the ocean feeding for up to two hours before coming up for a breath, so the obvious objective is to locate the whale during it’s break from feeding and watch it’s magnificent dive back down into the depths of the sea. Sperm Whales “click” to communicate, so to increase the chances of spotting one the captain of the boat uses a hydrophone to listen to these clicks and determine where the whale or whales may be. Thankfully our crew was able to hear the clicks and find the location of one of these astonishing creatures. We got there in time to see the incredible mass of the Giant Sperm Whale and watch it blow water out of it’s blow hole in preparation to go under again. The most incredible part of the experience was watching the whale take it’s slow dramatic dive back down and the beauty of it’s huge tail curve and extend into the air and down into the water. Thankfully, we had successful whale watching day and enjoyed every second of it!

Later in the day we decided to take a visit to the seal colonies located on the rocks of the Kaikoura peninsula. We drove down to the area, and got out with all of the other people to see one New Zealand fur seal lying on a rock surrounded by people and cameras. Looking for a little more excitement, we decided to climb around the bluffs a little bit further to see what else we could find. After about twenty five minutes of climbing around the enormous rocks we were about to give up and turn around but decided we would go around this one last bluff before turning back. Right as we turned the corner we saw a seal doing circles and playing in the water just off the shore. After a short moment of sitting down to take some pictures and play with the little guy for a minute we spotted a few more seals lying out on the rocks not too far away. With not a sole in sight we climbed out as far onto the rocks we could but were separated by a pretty large strip of water too rough and deep to cross. We watched the seals meet up to the same rock standing up as tall as they could and playing with one another. It was adorable! Glancing a little further down we realized these fascinating fur seals were everywhere, swimming the water, resting on the rocks, playing with one another… And eventually playing with us! It was an unbelievable experience to be able to spend hours playing with the seals and taking pictures of them in such a personal and natural environment.

The following morning in Kaikoura began with quite possibly the most phenomenal experience of my life… Swimming with the dolphins. Before our trip to New Zealand I asked a good friend of mine, Catherine who had previously studied and traveled New Zealand, if she had any recommendations. She told me a few different places to visit and things to do, but there was one thing in particular she said to me “Ok, so you have to do everything in your power to get to Kaikoura, nz on the south island and swim with dolphins. It was hands down the most amazing experience I’ve ever had and you won’t regret it.” Knowing Catherine, she would definitely not say anything like this without it being absolutely worth it. So I made sure to do everything I could, including cut out our visit to the wine region part of our trip to make it to Kaikoura and swim with the dolphins.

As I begin to tell you about this extraordinary experience I am going to have to start by letting you know how terrified I am of the ocean. Weird I know, because I adore the beach. It’s pretty embarrassing, but it irks me at the thought of being in the deep ocean with all of the many creatures below me not knowing what is really about to swim up, and that if something dangerous were right beneath me no one but God could really pull me out of that water fast enough…. Anyway it’s the great unknown and I’m afraid of it. So with this being said we booked it in advance and pre paid so I couldn’t back out. As we began the boat ride out to the dolphins the scenery was gorgeous watching the sun rise on the ocean, and I just kept telling myself I’m not scared over and over again. So it came time to put our flippers and snorkels on, sit on the back of the boat, and get ready for the buzzer sound to tell us it’s time to jump in the water. In what seemed like no time the buzzer was sound and everyone was jumping in, so I knew it was time and jumped in right behind Tyler. Within seconds my vision was blurry and I started to hyperventilate. Tyler immediately grabbed me yelling “Are you ok? Are you ok?” and somehow I just snapped myself out of it! It took me about thirty seconds (Tyler says two minutes), but I just said, “yes I really want to do this!”. I immediately stuck my head in the water to see and there the dolphins were all around me swimming in circles, jumping out of the water, doing flips, they were everywhere! The amazing, untrained, dusky dolphins were playing with us for their entertainment in their natural environment. It was such a surreal moment I just kept looking around in amazement, I truly couldn’t believe we were in the water swimming with hundreds of dolphins. Every once in a while you could catch eye contact with one of the dolphins swimming beside you it was the most unbelievable moment, then the dolphin would try to race you in circles and of course always win. Every couple minutes of looking down a group of about four or five dolphins would just swim right beneath you. You could do different things like dive down or make a lot of noise to get their attention to come play with you, and Tyler would dive down while I just kept making noises and we were surrounded by them. The crew said we swam in a pod of about three to four hundred dolphins and we swam for what they said was about an hour, but it felt like 15 minutes. The rest of the day it was all we could talk about, we just wanted to go back out there to swim with them again. It truly was an amazing experience I will never, ever forget. I think everyone should listen to Catherine when she says do everything in your power to swim with these incredible dolphins in Kaikoura. It’s no flipper… They won’t kiss you or shake your hand, it’s the real deal, which is what makes this experience so extraordinary.



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7 thoughts on “Kaikoura – A Swim With The Dolphins

  1. Chelsea…………hey woman, and tyler too………love the story about your journey with the amazing creatures of the sea. Chels Ms. Rhonda is so afraid of the great beneath also, but love the ocean and beaches. I love to be in the water (pool) prefered, I am sooooo proud of you for taking this time in the great abyss. I have cold chills and tears in my eyes right now……….I am so happy for you, to be able to overcome this fear that you have are awesome to me! And Tyler, even though I don’t know you very well, I think that you are ranked pretty awesome yourself……….Love, Ms. Rhonda

    • Ms. Rhonda you are more awesome to me as well! Thinking back I still can’t believe I was able to overcome my fear! So glad you enjoyed the post. Stay in touch!

  2. I am dying to do this chelsea!!! Great story! So glad you couldn’t back out, you scaredy pants! Miss you tons!

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