DAYs 34 - 36. Mon 8th to Wed 10th Nov. Waikari to Kaikoura.
Set off early to drive to Kaikoura, the home of Whale-Watching in NZ. The road was a delightful, secluded, minor route back to the main road about 50 kms away. Running through varied farming landscape, but always with the range of mountains to the west. (See photo) One aspect of the countryside that I had noticed from the air while coming in to land at Christchurch was the use of wind-break hedges. They are very similar to those on the Isles of Scilly, to protect the spring flowers. Here, tall straight lines of conifer, they protect the crops from the fierce, cold southerly winds that blow for long periods. The plains are used for animal rearing, beef and sheep, but also for deer and alpacas. A new-ish, and rapidly increasing, industry is wine. Lots of new vineyards are being planted.
My road joined up with the main road, but still the traffic was light. Approaching Kaikoura, it ran along the sea shore, paralleling the narrow-gauge railway line that runs from Christchurch to Picton, the ferry terminal for Wellington and the North Island. Although only one passenger train runs in each direction per day, several long freight trains are operated, to try to reduce the lorry traffic on the roads. But, as at home, the trucks are cheaper and more convenient, so the railway faces a struggle to continue. Approaching Kaikoura, I got my first view of the sea fog that I had seen from the air. (See photo) It did not seem too bad at first, probably because it was past mid-day by now, and when I found my B&B, it had generally moved away. However, it was to return that night. My B&B had the disadvantage of being on the main road, but with the astonishing view from my window, all that was forgotten. (See photos) Sadly for the owners, a new hotel is going to be built in the open space in front of them, and they don't know how that will affect their view.
The next morning I got up early to be at the Whale Watch centre by 7:30 am. Thick fog. Boo! The skipper said that it would be worth trying, especially as there were already 2 other boats out on the water, 6:30 & 7:00 departures, so with 3 skippers listening on the hydrophones, we should locate something. The reason that whales congregate around Kaikoura is a 1650 metre deep canyon 10 kms off the coast, which fills with cold water, and trillions of krill. The, mainly male, whales come to feed on the abundance, but the females don't. The experts think it's because it's too cold! We were destined not to see anything. (See photo) Although they picked up the sound of the whales feeding, they were never able to locate where they surfaced, so none of us saw anything, and they cancelled the subsequent sailings. On the way back to harbour, we passed the Dolphin watch boat, surrounded by dolphins, but our skipper wouldn't stop, saying he had to get back to harbour on time. Sad, as they had cancelled the next departures. At least the organization give you 80% of your money back, if you don't see any whales, and offer a further 10% reduction on the price of another ticket. I booked straight away for the same time next morning. Fingers crossed.
The next morning was cloudy, but breezy, so no fog thankfully. I drove down to the centre, noticing that the car park was deserted, where yesterday it had been half full. Checking in, I couldn't believe it when they said the sailings had been cancelled because the southerly wind (about 20 knots) created a very rough sea, too rough for us to go out in. So no whales for me, at least at Kaikoura. Hopefully, there will be somewhere else on my perambulations where I can meet up with them. Before leaving, I spent some time looking around their permanent exhibition and shop. It is based in the Kaikoura Railway Statio, and some of the Whale Watch staff double as train personnel when it comes through. A very symbiotic relationship. Even to the point of calling it a "Whaleway Station"! I then spent some time in the Internet café catching up with my journal, and then set off northwards to Blenheim, and another new (to me) cousin Kate, daughter of cousin Clare from Waikari. (Are you keeping up with this? It will get worse in Australia!)