Kaikoura Part 2: Kayaking With Seals

Back on dry land and still buzzing from the excitement of seeing the dusky dolphins, it was time to head back to the hostel to prepare for our next adventure, kayaking with Kaikoura Kayaks. Since our kayaking trip in Franz Josef had been cancelled we’d decided to just go ahead and book this one instead as it also looked amazing and we just though, why not? This trip promised seals swimming around nearby and sunning themselves on the rocks and what trip isn’t great with a few seals involved. It seemed like the perfect afternoon plan.

Ready to kayak
Ready to kayak

Once we’d popped into the office to check it was ok for us to take our cameras with us, we slowly wandered back to the hostel. Considering it had been a really bad day yesterday full of clouds and mist, the sky was completely clear today with the sun beating down onto the little town of Kaikoura. We must have been incredibly lucky and it was so different to our Franz Josef weather! It seemed like the day was going to get better and better and I just could not wait to get back out in the sea to se what marine creatures we could spot. It was a shame that we had a couple of hours to wait though.Luckily the time passed fairly quickly with us going back to get changed, the munching of a tasty portion of chips from Cooper’s Catch and another walk back to the hostel to get a jacket and it wasn’t long until we found ourselves wandering back to begin our second adventure.

Upon arrival at Kaikoura Kayaks, we were given a form to fill out providing them will our emergency information just in case anything went wrong. Of course I completely understand that they need to do this as a precaution but as I was already a little bit nervous about kayaking through the waves, it did worry me a bit. Not one to back out of a challenge, I pushed this thought to the back of my mind and carried on as normal. There wasn’t a chance I was going to let any worried thoughts ruin something I’d really been looking forward to doing! Once everybody was sorted, we then had a brief discussion about whereabouts we would be heading and then piled into the minibus to make our way back to South Bay. It’s clearly the place to be in Kaikoura as it was our second time of being there in the space of a few hours!

Codie ready to go
Codie ready to go

With everybody assembled on the beach we were given our splash skirts, dry bags and life jackets before a lecture about how to paddle and use the rudders. We decided that it was best for me to be at the front as the navigator and Codie to be at the back so he had more control as the more experienced kayaker. I was more than happy with that! I might like kayaking and everything but there was not a chance I’d want to be in charge when I was already a bit worried about the strength of the sea! Once all that was sorted we lined up the kayaks and got inside for a test run of attaching the splash skirts and….I failed miserably. I just could not stretch it enough to fit and ended up having to be helped. Oh the humiliation! It was made even worse when we had a race to see who could pull it off and put it back on again. I tugged at it, went in from a different angle but, nope, it just wouldn’t go on and I think I came last. Grrrrrrrr. Codie won though so it was good to know that somebody knew what to do!

About to leave
About to leave

Eventually it was time for us to get in the water and we all helped each other carry the kayaks down to the water. They were a lot heavier than I remembered and with it being quite a slope, also quite difficult to stop yourself flying into the sea! When we’d sat down and were ready to go, we slid into the water and began paddling our way out. With the rudder in place and our paddles slicing through the perfectly clear water, we were off. Off into the Pacific ocean to see the seals and perhaps a penguin or two. It was all very exciting…nope….it was absolutely terrifying. There were so many concealed rocks which we were told we called the “graters” or something along those lines because they just shred the bottom of the kayaks. By the time I’d been able to spot them lurking underneath us as we went along, it was a miracle that we turned in time to avoid them. Well, we avoided most of them. We ended up perched on top of a rather large, scratchy one because we hadn’t been able to turn quickly enough to get away from it. Perhaps not the best start to the adventure and I think my nerves were in shreds rather than the boat but we quickly and carefully removed ourselves and carried on paddling. 

In the kayak
In the kayak

When we made it through the rocks and into the deeper water, things definitely improved somewhat and I began to relax a little bit more. I’ve kayaked many times before including in the sea with my sister Tish so I’m not sure what made we worry so much on this trip but the further we got out, the more I enjoyed myself. The feel of the wind on your face and the sound of the water sloshing against the boat was lovely and just like our dolphin trip earlier on, I loved being back looking for wildlife. Definitely one of my favourite ever things. Not too long after we’d set off, a huge splash in front us caught my attention and I immediately altered my pace so we could have a closer look. I could just about make out jaws and two rows of sharp teeth breaking the surface and dozens of curious seagulls appeared, squawking overhead and eager to see what goodies they good snaffle. It was a seal! After munching it’s lunch, it came over to us and swam around and around in circles before heading off towards some rocks. I’m not sure whether that was an invitation to follow him and meet his friends or whether he was just a very happy seal but we continued paddling and traced his watery tracks.

A floating raft
A floating raft

By the time we got to the rocks to see the resting seals, I was feeling quite jealous and tempted to paddle over and join them. I’d forgotten just how tiring kayaking through the waves can actually be and in trying to keep up with the people at the front of the group, my arms were really aching. Still, at least I was burning off those yummy chips! Being careful not to scrape along the jagged rocks, we slowly crept around the corner until we found ourselves in the middle of some very sleepy looking seals. So we could drift about and watch them for a while without having to paddle or crash into each other, everybody formed a sort of raft and we floated for about 10 minutes just watching them lollop about on the land and diving into the water. It really was very cool and very peaceful to see them in their natural habitat. They all just looked so content. At one point I saw one big male (they were all males apparently), sliding down a rock only to end up on his nose at the bottom. Hehehe. It was very funny though he didn’t look too impressed and sullenly slipped into the water before swimming away. Poor Mr. Seal. It was lovely to get the chance to get up quite close to these massive creatures and I could have stayed for hours watching them get on with their day. Such beautiful animals. We also got quite close to one which was swimming around in front of us and it was amazing to see just how big they were compared to the kayak. It was huge and really rather intimidating!

A seal!
A seal!

Unfortunately, hopes of a peaceful drift about were dashed a little while later when the Seal Swim Kaikoura boat turned up. I was quite interested to see what they did as we’d been looking to do that instead of the kayaking and it did look really good fun. Sadly this meant that we had to back off and watch as the swimmers very carefully floated towards the only seal nearby in the water and it kind of took away the nice, relaxing atmosphere I’d become accustomed to. Grrrrrrr. It didn’t even seem as good as I thought it’d be as you literally just had to hope they’d be interested and float face down. I completely understand that they’re wild animals and all, of course you cannot force them to be involved, but $110 seemed a bit steep for what you got after what we’d seen on the Encounter trip. Obviously since we didn’t actually do it, I can’t properly comment on whether or not it was good but from a distance that’s how it appeared. Perhaps it’d be better if you were actually in the water; everybody there seemed pretty happy and the reviews of Trip Advisor say it’s amazing so I suppose it must be. I still would have loved to have had a go; any chance of spending more time with the seals would be worth every penny and the guys running it seemed very enthusiastic so that’s always good. Besides, it could just have been a bad day for seal life….

Bobbing along
Bobbing along

Once we’d been detached from the ‘raft’ and pushed back out to continue our paddling, we slowly made our way back alongside the rocks and came across two rather playful seals rolling about and even jumping clean out of the water. It made me catch my breath a bit as I wasn’t expecting that at all.  They ended up right next to us and I filmed them on the Go Pro as best I could though I was a bit reluctant to put it in the water in case they came at me and bit it! That might seem a bit weird but when you’ve seen those shiny teeth, their sheer size and the speed at which they seem to fly through the water, it really is quite daunting. In the end I managed to get a little bit but before long they’d disappeared into the ocean gloom and we carried on paddling. It would’ve been nice to have captured them that close but it wasn’t worth the risk of losing a finger. You never know with wild animals and I’d much rather be more prepared.

Me having a rest
Me having a rest

Suddenly, a shout from one of the guides informed us that there was a little blue penguin bobbing about. We’d heard the cry of one before and were hoping to see it so it was a nice surprise to find it  just sitting there, seemingly not bothered by us all having a look at him. After being able to watch them from a distance in Melbourne it was great to get a closer look and I wondered how his day had been. Had he caught many fish? Had he been chased? Was he tired? Was he even a she? Of course with him being a penguin and all, I’d never really know the answers and so had to make do with seeing this little thing riding the waves and that was perfect. Nothing compares to seeing a wild animal actually in the wild so it was a real treat and an added bonus to  Eventually he decided it was time to leave and we turned back around for one last look at the seals on the rocks. My arms were really aching by now and I have to admit, although I would loved to have stayed longer just watching the whiskery wonders, I was more than happy to head back to the shore. We’d spent a bit of time paddling about just enjoying the kayaks rather than spending more time with the animals and though that had been quite nice, all I wanted at that stage was a sit down and a rest of my arms.

Codie in the kayak
Codie in the kayak

As the kayaks gently bumped the beach and we all clambered out, I felt relieved that I could finally had a proper sit down. Kayaking had been an amazing experience but it was very physically demanding and it often felt as though the seals were a handy “add-on” feature rather than the main attraction which is how it had been advertised. That’s not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable because it really was and you could tell that the guides really loved what they did as they were more than happy to answer any questions we had. It was also nice to have a proper go at sea kayaking and whilst it was a lot harder than I remembered, it was also a real challenge and very rewarding.What was annoying, however, was the fact that my damn splash skirt hadn’t actually worked and I was completely drenched when I stood up. I knew I wasn’t that sweaty! That combined with my shout-iness when I was panicking about hitting rocks and a dodgy rudder which didn’t move properly meant that at times it was all a bit stressful but still a good experience. Well, who needs simple, straight forward fun? All in all, I was so glad we’d booked a trip with Kaikoura Kayaks but I think if we were to do it again, we wouldn’t pick a day when we’d been up so early. Trying to summon our last energy reserves was a challenge in itself!

On the way back
On the way back

Back in Kaikoura town centre and we made our way back to the hostel to sit down and reflect on the amazing day we’d had. It had been so incredibly long but so incredibly worth it and packed full of wildlife. Feeling absolutely shattered we spent the rest of the day in the common room before making a tea of pasta and broccoli (really craving vitamins now!) and heading to bed. It was our last ‘proper’ day in New Zealand before we began the long journey back to Brisbane and to me, there couldn’t have been a better way to end an amazing 3 weeks.

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