Kaikoura to Christchurch Road Trip

Dusky Dolphin

At breakfast Bob asks if I fancy a swim with the Dusky dolphins. “You never know, we might see another whale too,” he says enthusiastically. At Dolphin Encounter’s base we don wetsuits and, after a bus ride to South Bay, board a boat and travel along the shore. Before long we see our first pod of Dusky dolphins, but since they are resting near the shore, we continue to deeper waters where another group dances upon the ocean.

“Play with them,” instructs our guide, Mark, as we dive off the stern one-by-one. “They’ll go away if they get bored so I want to see lots of ducking and diving,” he says.

As Bob and I swim away from the boat I’m thankful for my wetsuit. Suddenly, from somewhere in the green murky depths comes a call. “Eeeeeeeeeeee.” It sends waves of shivers up my spine and Bob gives me a startled look as seawater fills my snorkel and I blow it out like a submerging orca.

In no time at all there’s company - a fast moving shape slides beneath. Panic is rapidly replaced with excitement as two Dusky dolphins come into view. They swim in unison and scrutinise Bob and I in our strange rubbery suits.

One dolphin leaves, obviously concluding that we’re no fun, but the other stays, peering at us playfully. We both roll and he immediately copies, and so we do it again. For a few minutes we twist around and around in the water until it’s hard to say who’s copying whom! In a final farewell he leaps up out of the water into a perfect arc and back down with a sleek splash. Bob gives it a go but fails dismally; the result is a resounding belly flop and laughter from the boat.

It’s super-exciting but we sit out the next round and instead watch these acrobatic dolphins from the boat. Bob’s got his camera ready and within moments they’re leaping out of the water and showing off their beautiful luminous white bellies. As they become more excited their tricks increase; before long they’re spinning, side-slapping and somersaulting both forwards and back.

It’s hard to leave, but a hot shower at the base is in order, as is a late lunch. We eat chilli mussels at Mussel Boys, then follow this up with a little retail therapy at Lavendyl Lavender Farm before leaving town.

There are five and a half acres of lavender and after we’ve explored the gardens Gary Morris kindly demonstrates how the oil is extracted using steam. Their small store provides a variety of handcrafted lavender products for sale, from lavender-infused olive oil, to soaps, and lavender and rosemary massage cream. I buy a couple of treats and we head south towards the garden city of Christchurch, following the coast then travelling inland to Cheviot and on through the wine-growing region of Waipara to Amberley.

Bob’s editing his photos (apparently the waving seal turned out well) and as we cross a long bridge over the braided Waimakariri River he suddenly starts waving his camera in front of my face and hopping with excitement. “Wow, this one’s right out of the water!” he shouts, as I crane my neck to keep my eyes on the road.

Bob shakes his head. “Those Dusky dolphins are just amazing,” he says, clicking rapidly through his photos, “I wouldn’t believe they’re wild if I hadn’t seen it for myself!”