Our first activity we had planned was to go swimming with the dolphins! Our friend Joe mentioned this to us as well so we decided to give it a go. One of the cool things about this particular dolphin adventure is that these weren’t just ordinary dolphins, these were endangered Hector’s Dolphins. They are also known as the smallest dolphins in the world! They have distinct rounded dorsal fins and can only be found in New Zealand. There are only about 7,000 left in the wild and are highly protected. But since they are very social creatures, and as long as touring companies follow conservation rules, people are allowed to swim with them!
We arrived at the dock where we were going to get ready to go out on the tour to swim with the dolphins and went to check in only to find out that I had accidentally booked the activity on the wrong day! They were really cool about it and ended up having room on the boat that morning for us so we lucked out and got to go anyway (phew!) First they had us suit up in wet suits and booties, then we grabbed our masks and snorkels and headed out onto the boat. Here is Steve giving his best Steve Zissou impression before we headed out on the boat. The boat in the picture below wasn’t actually the boat we went on, our had no windows and we got a little more wet than that one, the kids and parents and older folks went on the slower boring protected boat while us cool kids got to go on the super fast awesome party boat.
The boat ride itself took us out through the bay and out into the ocean. The landscapes were beautiful and I got lots of photos while we were out searching for dolphins. Neither of the boats had sonar or any sort of mechanical way of detecting the dolphins locations since they were very common. It was much more fun to have the tour groups go out and spot them for themselves. So along the way while we did this, we got to see lots of beautiful land formations and sea cliffs and even some cave entrances! The captain also took the boat into a small cove that had some very interesting geographical rock formations. I can’t quite remember what he said this was, but it looks like a large plate of rock that just juts down through the hillside. Really neat stuff.
It took us a while to spot some dolphins and when we finally did get into the water it was really awesome. They seemed a bit shy, but they swam right up to everyone and swam through the group of us as we were flailing around and making noises under the water to play with them. I saw one coming toward me and dunked under the water just as he came near and I saw him jolt past me and slice through through the water! It was awesome, and Steve did the same thing where he would go under just as they came near to get a really good look at them. They were really cool. Unfortunately this was one of those activities you can’t really bring a camera along with (I need to get a waterproof camera for things like this) but I somehow managed to get one shot of two dolphins swimming by the boat. I didn’t think I got any since they were so fast, but at least it’s something!
After we swam with the dolphins for a while we had some hot chocolate on the boat and headed back to the dock to take a hot shower and dry off. It was lots of fun and such a unique experience. The boat hand took some pictures of everyone in the water, but they wanted a bunch of money for it. We decided to pass on the pics. We then enjoyed some sandwiches on the walkway near the water in town and then jumped back in the car and started heading south toward Dunedin to stay there for the night, but before we set up camp there, we had to make one more stop along the way and witness the iconic Moeraki Boulders along the east coast.
We got to the Koekohe Beach where the boulders were located and it was low tide. It was also raining. It wasn’t a huge bummer, but we did wear our raincoats and I had to wrap my camera up in a plastic bag to protect it while I took come pictures. There was a small cafe/information center there but it was closed when we arrived so we didn’t have to pay to go down to the beach. Normally you can just avoid the information center all together and take a longer route around along the beach, but we decided to just use the car park up there. A handful of people were there and you could tell this was a spot tourists frequented. The boulders themselves were so strangely beautiful. Some of them were perfectly spherical and some were cracked open or broken into many pieces and created mini tide pools for smaller organisms. Apparently throughout history there had been many more boulders, but any that were small enough to transport off the beach were taken by people. Only the huge ones remain.
After this spectacular break in driving south, we continued onward to Dunedin. We didn’t actually end up doing anything in Dunedin except have dinner and sleep. Tomorrow we are heading west toward Te Anau to visit the amazing Millford Sounds!