Along the Away

a traveler's tales

This was a day I woke up with excitement fluttering in my stomach. As soon as my eyes opened I remembered what the day ahead held and I jumped out of bed with giddy anticipation, a bit nervous but with a big smile on my face. It was one of those holiday days where you’re going to do something you’ve planned to do before even leaving home.

A once in a lifetime thing.



But the Dusky Dolphin pod lives off the east coast, and I was still in Nelson on the northern tip of the South Island. So onto the bus we got for the drive to Kaikoura, back through the Rai Valley and the Marlborough Wine Region. The early morning start was beautiful, I had my eyes and camera pressed to the bus window.

Driving Rai Valley

Driving Rai Valley

As we drove down the coast we stopped at Ohau Point to watch some New Zealand fur seals. They were cute, but pretty lazy, so we stopped long enough to take photos and stretch our legs then got on our way again.

Ohua Point

Driving Rai Valley

Driving Rai Valley

Driving Rai Valley

While most of the bus group went on a whale watching cruise, myself and my new friends Susie, a fellow Aussie from Sydney, and Emma, from England, went out on the dolphin swimming cruise with Dolphin Encounter. It was expensive but worth it for the most amazing day!

Kaikoura Dusky Dolphin Swim

‘Most amazing’ is an epic statement to make considering I spent some of said awesome day emptying my stomach into a plastic bucket.

AND into the ocean.

Metres from a Sperm Whale.

This is the price one must pay on intrepid sea adventures.

Kaikoura Dusky Dolphin Swim

The sea swell was classified moderate-rough and the pod proved a little elusive to find, so we were on the water for over an hour before we spotted some small groups from the pod.

Kaikoura Dusky Dolphin Swim

A lovely girl on the crew, who spent most of the time handing out and rinsing out plastic buckets, said it took us twice as long as normal to find them which would be why so many of us experienced sea sickness, and why I had it even though I’ve never been sick at sea before. Motion sickness has never been my problem, I can read a novel in 8pt font in a 4WD jeep driving on rural dirt tracks and I won’t even notice. But this time, I won’t lie, I felt pretty rotten.

Kaikoura Dusky Dolphin Swim

Luckily, I fell into a cycle of 10 minutes feeling queasy, 5 minutes over the bucket, 10 minutes feeling just fine and dandy.

I’m grateful for small mercies, those 10 minute periods of dandiness meant I got to get in the water with the dolphins and have an absolute blast doing so.

Once we found the whole pod the captain positioned the boat a short distance away and we all popped into the ocean off the back of the boat. It took a bit of coordination with all the gear on and the excitement coursing adrenaline through our veins. It was then up to the dolphins to join us – they did not hesitate for a second!

It’s hard to describe, but let me try.

I plunged into the icy water and bobbed between the hectic chaos above surface and the eerie calm underwater. I pushed away from the crowd trying to get away from the flippers kicking my head, the arms splashing air bubbles in front of my goggles, the noise and disturbance all around me.

I swam toward some calm and started seeing flashes past my goggles; flippers of a different kind. Long noses, sleek dusty grey blurs, eyeballs passing right by my eyeballs. My breath caught in my chest, my heart thudded, I couldn’t breathe. The coldness of the water and the adrenaline seized me. A golden moment in time, pure joy, the power of the universe flowing into me and out of me as it does in only the most special of moments.

I bobbed up to the surface to take 10 seconds to pull myself together. I wanted to laugh, to cry, to throw up, to leap, to reach out.

I took some deep breaths. Adjusted my goggles. Calmed the hell down.

I ducked back under and took my time just hovering, watching. There were hundreds of dolphins darting all around me, every which way, it was unbelievable. I was conscious not to touch them but they had no qualms brushing past me, but oh so fast. I probably couldn’t have intentionally hugged one if I tried (I didn’t). I remembered what we’d been told and started to mimic their behavior. We wanted them to think we were just like them, a special kind of dolphin that had come to visit. I squealed through my snorkel, I flipped one hand back and forth and spun in a circle while they did the same around me. I was playing with dusky dolphins! Bloody amazing!!

I’m sure to the dolphins, we’re just indistinguishable to them as they are to us. But there were moments where I locked eyes with one for a fleeting moment and I wondered; what is this connection? Two species playing, one land based, one ocean dwelling. No reason to be here doing this together other than heartfelt curiosity on the part of one with the intelligence and means to adapt to an alternative environment, just for awhile. And the other, heartfelt curiosity and the intelligence to recognise the opportunity.

I was seriously blown away.

Kaikoura Dusky Dolphin Swim

It was the best day, ending in a sunset cruise back to shore.

Kaikoura Dusky Dolphin Swim

Kaikoura Dusky Dolphin Swim

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Sydney based, coastal dwelling. When I'm not at work I'm somewhere outdoors, or in the yoga studio, or at my local cafe, or pottering at home.

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