Today we got to swim with the dolphins. Not dolphins at a wildlife park or aquarium, real wild ocean-dwelling dolphins. We caught the explore NZ boat from the Paihia dock early this morning and spent a good hour cruising through the Bay of Islands in search of sea-life. The day was crisp and clear; we were able to sit at the front of the boat in the early-morning sunshine taking in the view of passing islands. Stell was the keen-eyed person who first spotted a distant dorsal fin bobbing in and out of the swell. As we approached, straining our eyes to spot more, we quickly realised that we were practically surrounded by a huge pod of wild bottle-nosed dolphins.
What I found fascinating is how playful they were. As we drifted closer to the pod they began to leap right out of the water just feet from the boat, as if they couldn't wait for us to come and join them.
We were given flippers, goggles, snorkel and after a quick safety briefing we eased ourselves into the water. The crew had advised us to think of the dolphins as little kids, keen to be entertained. To do this they told us to make lots of squeaking and clicking sounds, perform somersaults and twist and generally act like fools. I've been waiting for an excuse to act like an idiot for years so when I found myself face to face with a smiling dolphin I keenly started spinning and squeaking, almost drowning myself. After a quick trip to the surface for air and a snorkel clearing, I had a look at what my fellow swimmers were up too. It was the funniest thing watching a group of humans all awkward in their flippers, trying to perform for the acrobats of the ocean. No wonder these beautiful mammals enjoy having us in the water, they must be having such a laugh at us put on a show for them. But it works, the more you spin and turn and squeak, the more they play, swimming just inches away, sometimes brushing right past you.
Stell had a fantastic time; two dolphins became quite attached to her and spent a lot of time playing. The crew called her the dolphin whisperer but I'm pretty sure it was just the fact that she's good at being high pitched and loud.
I can't quite find the words to describe the whole experience, exhilarating- absolutely, but there was almost something otherworldly about being underwater with these gentle giants. Every time you come up to adjust goggles or get your bearings it was like stepping back into reality. It is also very obvious that the dolphins enjoy it just as much as the humans- and love to show off for the cameras.
My tip of the day- being face down in the water for an hour means the back of your legs are getting the full brunt of the suns rays. Sunscreen your legs- the back of my knees are already stinging.
After a quick look at the Hole in the Rock (pretty self explanatory) we made our way back to shore through the bays 144 islands and made a beeline to the closest fish and chip shop.
We spent the afternoon walking along the coast with no particular destination in mind and stumbled upon the Paihia treaty grounds where the Waitangi treaty was signed between the early settlers and the Maori people, ending years of warring and bloodshed. I hadn't known Paihia was a historic town but as it turns out there were lots of major firsts for NZ in this small town- first school, church, treaty, ship launched, resident surgeon, stone house, wedding and cricket match all took place here.
It's been a big day, swimming and sun always take it out of me. It's been a nice night chatting with some Germans at our YHA over past and beer. Time for bed- early start tomorrow- off to the dunes!