To read about Kaikoura or the Kaikoura Whale Watch just click here. After the buzz that was Whale Watch, I decided to notch the challenge level up a bit. It is one thing to sit on a nice, cosy (sea sickness inducing) boat and look at Kaikoura’s wonderful marine life, but this time, I wanted to get a closer look. So taking a recommendation from a frequent New Zealand visitor, I chose to go kayaking with Kaikoura Kayaks. They have a specific tour where a guide will bring you down the Kaikoura coastline with the goal of seal spotting.
For people who are nervous, kayaking may seem like an impossibility. I have not swam since the days of Swim 5 and had no intention of getting into the ocean. But for anyone like me there is very little to worry about. Each person receives a life-jacket and all the waterproof gear you need to stay dry, including the fabulous splash skirt, and bags for your camera. Our guide Matt Foy, who was fantastic throughout, took us through all the safety procedures including how to get out of the kayak if it overturns and it is easier than I thought it would be! He also gave us a quick lesson in paddle strokes and what to do if you hit a rock, which is very important information to know.
All the above takes only about 10 minutes and the rest of the time is spent on the water, so you really get your monies worth. The water was wonderful for a first time kayaker, calm and steady, which really lets you get your balance. Our destination was the Fur Seal colony which is off the coast of Kaikoura. Fur Seals are the most common seals in New Zealands and they have pointy noses, whiskers and two layers of fur. They are big seals, females grow up to 50 kgs and males up to 150 kgs. These seals lived in New Zealand before people and it was estimated that they numbered 2 million in those days. The seals were then hunted for food and fat and their numbers dropped. They are now protected and their numbers are back up to 50-60,000. We were on the water 10 minutes when we spotted our first wild sea bird, a little blue penguin. It was swimming about, happy as anything, looking for some small fish. It would not pose for a photo sadly and swam away quicker than we can paddle. There were other birds such as gulls and cormorants to keep us entertained.
If we were worried about not seeing any seals we should not have been. We soon reached their rocky colony and there were loads of them. Sleeping, eating, having a walk, they were all there hanging out. I was suprised at how big they were and how unbothered they were by our presence, we were pretty much ignored. Once we became more confident paddling in the sea, and trust me this comes quickly, we went further out from the shore. It was here that we witnessed a real treat. There was a seal who had caught an octopus and was eating it for his tea. The seal was throwing the entire octopus into the air and smacking it against the waves. Part of the octopus would then break off and the seal would gobble it up greedily. It was fascinating to watch and the seal continued this ritual as he swam right past us, flinging the octopus around. The smell was horrendous, like falling into a vat of reject sushi, but it was a scene from nature that I will not ever forget. I was only afraid once,when a seal swam under the kayak. There were a group of three paying in the water around us and one decided to take a short cut right under the boat. It was fine however and the seal just surfaced and swam away leaving us still upright on the water.
Seeing the animals was obviously the main attraction but what I was not expecting was how fun kayaking is on its own. Padding around his hard work but it is wonderful to glide on the water. We also tried our hand at doing some surfing which was equally terrifying and exhilarating. Going through rapids and around rocks was not as scary as I though it would be and I actually quite enjoyed it. There isn’t that same level of seasickness as you are down on the water so while I would recommend that if you are prone to illness take tablets, it was nowhere near as bad as the whale watch boat.
The unexpected star of the tour was the Kaikoura coastline. From the sea you get a really great view that you would not get if you were on the coast or out at sea on a boat. We had full view of the cliffs and the beach side walks. We had a panorama of the entire peninsula and all the buildings, birds and natural features within. It was really something special.
Seeing animals in the wild is a whole world better than seeing them in a zoo or aquarium. Being in a kayak meant that we could get as close, if not closer to the wild seals than we would to their captivate cousins. The view of the coast was also worth the paddle. If it is your first time in a kayak I would recommend going with someone who has been before. This way they can steer from the back and you can have all the fun taking photos at the front of the boat.
For a guide to Kaikoura check out The Lonely Planet Guide for the South Island.
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