Our first port of call after the ferry crossing was a town called Kaikoura, renowned for its abundant marine wild life off the coast. Different times of the year see sperm, humpback and southern right whales passing through, as well as dolphins and seals. Along the coastal drive down to the town we passed various colonies of seals basking in the sun! We booked on to a whale watching tour by boat for the next day. Although, the cost of the trip was huge, especially considering what was included (very minimal), we decided it would all be worth it to see the sperm whales (the whale most commonly seen at this time of year here).
So, after watching a quick safety video, we were taken by shuttle bus to the pier to catch the specially designed boats. After about ½ hour of cruising, we received a message over the radio from another boat, saying a whale had been sighted 10 minutes away. As we dashed over to the site, the tour guide explained the behaviour of the whales. Apparently, after diving for about 1 to 1 ½ hours they come up the surface for about 10 minutes, soaking up more oxygen for the next dive and generally having a rest or play in the water. He warned us this whale may well have had his 10 minutes fill by the time we got there and already have dived under again, not to be seen for an hour or more. Luckily, when we got there the sperm whale was just chilling out on the surface and actually seemed to be sleeping! Obviously, from the boat all you can actually see of the whale is top of his head and body, but the sheer size of the massive creature was clear to see. Coming in at about 16m long he was a solitary adolescent male, part of a loose pod of teenage males. We got to watch the whale from about 50m or less, for a further 10-15 minutes, before he showed the characteristic signs of starting to make his next deep sea dive. As he dove down for the last time, we were lucky enough to see the iconic image of the whale's tail sticking out the water. Unfortunately, this lone whale was the only one we were to see on this tour, but we were satisfied to have seen the glorious animal up close and personal. We happily set off for our next destination - The Abel Tasman National Park.
This National Park is right in the north eastern corner of the south island, running along the coast. Much of it is inaccessible by road, so walking or kayaking are the main ways in. We found another one of the government run reserve campsites right by the sea for NZ$6 a night. Very reasonable, especially considering the view we had from our campervan. We went for a lovely long walk around the coast, discovering small, secluded bays along the way. The many views were stunning. Many people take days to trek from one side to the other, but w were taking it easy and only had the day there before we had to move on towards the mountains and glaciers on the west of the island.