|Left Christchurch early Tuesday morning - having just run a mercy mission to take a young Belgian couple into Christchurch to catch a bus. We were in the same dorm and I could hear a muted argument going on and then a lot of scrabbling about - it was about 7.30am. I'd just woken too wanting to get an early start so I got up too. The young belgian guy who I'd been talking to the night before said "You have a van?", "yes" I say, "We have overslept and need to get our bus in 15mins. Please could you drive us to the bus station", "Of course" I say. So with that we rush downstairs with all their bags, load them into the Combi and race into the city centre. I say race but as you know my van doesn't go very fast and it doesn't like the morning very much, but we made it with minutes to spare. They were very grateful and I felt pretty good too. It's these little asides that are making this trip different.
Anyway back to the backpackers, grab and tea and head for Kuikoura. I arrived in fairly good time and got myself ensconced at a little campsite about 7km out of town but right on the beach - fantastic. I even had an hour to spare to do a spot of sun bathing!
Around 2pm I booked myself in and waited around with the rest of the group to get on the bus to take us to the port. There must have been about 40-50 of us and trips were going every hour or so, so it's quite popular.
The boat itself was a hi-tech trimarang full of electronic gizmos for finding whales. The sea wasn't too rough but there was a 2-3m swell so going out at about 20knots we fairly flew over the waves, it was great.
Our guide gave us a running commentary on why whales come to this spot. Apparently it's because there's a huge continental shelf just off shore where the ocean floor plunges to something like a 1000ft down a near vertical underwater cliff, and it's great feeding ground for sperm whales who eat sharks (whole), giant squid and all manner of other sea creatures - I thought they just ate plancton!! Oh yes, and why do whales leap out of the sea? It's to help their digestion. They can't digest the beaks from the squid which then rather tends to bung them up, so they leap out of the water to land on their bellies which has the affect of beaking up the squid beaks. And whilst I'm on it, why do they call them sperm whales (Grace)! It's because when sailors first discovered these whales they obviously killed them and when they "hacked" into their enormous heads they discovered all this oiling white substance (can't remember how much the guide said but a lot) in a large membrane cavity. Being a bit stupid they assumed it was part of the whales reproductive cycle so thought let's call them Sperm Whales and before anyone could work out what it was really for the name stuck. It actually helps the whales sonar sensing.
A little while later we get our first siting and raced off to get as close as possible. It was amazing. Unfortunately I only got a couple of ok-ish pictures as by this time the swell had increased and once we stopped the boat just bobbed around. So what with me bracing myself against the waves and now feeling sea-sick (typical) I only got a few shots in. We did spot another sperm whale. They stay on the surface replenishing their oxygen for about 10 minutes before diving again to eat for another 30-45 minutes.
The photos don't really do it justice and it was absolutely amazing when the whale dived and it's tail (20ft wide!) just rose out of the water before it disappeared. I will do it again and be better prepared.