Monday, August 8, 2011

From South Island to North: Kaikoura to Wellington

Saturday, May 14 (still)
South Island

We drove with the windows down along State Highway 1, hugging the east coast. The Ohau Point Seal Colony wasn't far, and the seal pup caves just past that. The New Zealand Fur Seals were like seasoning to this part of the South Island, basking on the rocks along the coast nearly every stretch we could see, and it was cool to be visitors to their natural habitat, their territory.

If we'd been excited to see the handful of seals on Kaikoura's peninsula, we were like little kids at the zoo when we got to Ohau Point.

They were everywhere, swimming, playing, barking at each other, flipping, sliding, and sleeping. The coastline here made a veritable water park with lots of small pools within the rocks, shielded from the rougher pull of the sea; slick rocks for sliding; and countless ledges and rock tops perfect for a post-play nap.

I swear he was blowing raspberries at us. Twerp.

"Move over!"
"No, YOU move over!"
"I was here FIRST!"

How I'd love to be able to sleep on the rocks while the sea crashed against them.

"Those furless seals with the camera sure do look strange."

Kind of reminds me of me as a child - asleep with my bum up in the air.

A little further up the road we found a sunnier spot where a rogue group of fur seals lay about working on their tans.

With the way both Ellister from 4-wheeling and Margaret from the B&B had spoken about it, we were expecting something a little less conspicuous when we arrived at the seal pup caves. It seems this once local-only knowledge was just too good to keep from the tourists, but that was okay. Being in the off-season, it wasn't overly crowded.

With just a simple trail leading from the small parking area on the side of State Highway 1, we started the sweet and shady walk through the forest toward the caves and waterfall where the pups spend their time playing until they reach a mature enough age to join their parents along the coastline with the rest of the colony.

We first came upon a small group of pups, which looked more like adolescents than babies, hanging around just off the path. One overly confident boy pretended to have a treat for one pup, luring it away from the safety of the brush. When the pup discovered the boy had nothing, and then the boy proceeded to attempt to pet the creature, that kid got not only barked at, but chased off, and that part was hilarious. The fact that the kid continued to torment the animal was annoying enough to get Chris and I moving on toward the waterfall, which we could hear ahead.

The water rushed down to a pool below that was swimming with seal pups, figuratively and literally. They chased each other and leaped from the water, doing flips and splashing like the children they were. Their fur was so similar in color to the rocks in and around the water, few photos came out well enough to give an idea of how many were all around us. People walked right up to the rocks taking photos, the seals a mere three feet away at times, and the animals allowed it. They seemed used to people, though kept a buffer zone between themselves and us most of the time. One or two were curious enough to come close enough for a sniff of a tourist, but for the most part the pups ignored us as we cooed and laughed, pointing our cameras and fingers at their adorable, wild play.

I couldn't resist, and after witnessing one rule-breaking man succeed in making physical contact with a pup, I had to try. He'd knelt along the rocks where a few pups were hanging out, and the more curious of the group hopped over the investigate, giving him excellent photo opportunities while it sniffed his leg and hand, actually allowing him to pet its head! I did the same once the man left, and indeed, a curious pup made its way carefully over to me. Squatting in mud isn't the best way to take low light photos with any hope of them coming out clear, but I tried. The pup sniffed my leg and watched me take his picture over and over, and I thought I was in! But when I braved lightly touching the back side of his head when he turned to look at the pool for a moment, he quickly let me know there would be non of that, and I respectfully backed off. Why don't all animals know how much I love them, and accept my love?

On our way back out, we were able to stop and get a few pictures of the seals we'd first seen coming in. The one on the left pointing his nose up was the earlier victim of the aforementioned obnoxious child, now left alone to relax with his pals.

There's something exciting about witnessing wild animals in their own world, and we were grateful these animals were gracious (tolerant) enough to allow this access.

It was time to say goodbye to the fur seals and be on our way again. 
I choose to interpret this facial expression as one of sadness as we walked away.

A little ways down the road we stopped again along a beach. The color of the water, the swaying grass, it was just a stretch we had to walk.

Looking right, there were blue mountains in the distance; looking left, the mountains were bright green. The sky was electric blue, and the sea something closer to aqua marine, appropriately so. It would turn out to be a day of colors as we made our way toward the port city of Picton to board a ferry for the North Island.

The vineyards glowed golden yellow and rusted orange from either side of the highway, their duty done for the season. White clouds darkening to shades of charcoal gathered in the bright blue sky, casting beautiful shadows across the fields of withering grapevines.

A person could get lost in the beauty of even death in a place like this.

Rolling on slightly inland, the landscape continued to change until we found ourselves driving through what looked like swampland. Amazing, how we could start this trip on mountain lakes, go through rainforest and glaciers to sandy beaches and rocky coast, and now there was a little piece of home as we neared the northern tip of the South Island - remember I'm a Florida girl.

When we got to Picton we had a little bit of time to look around this port city. I had to post this photo, as it reminds me a little of downtown St. Petersburg, FL, minus the mountains. We poked around some shops and found a few things to bring home before boarding the inter-island ferry for Wellington. 

With roughly three hours during which we were forced to sit and relax, we could have watched the movie on-board, or hung out in the lounge watching football and drinking, but we opted instead to don headphones and get lost in our own heads for a while. With beer. Next stop, Wellington!

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