Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sea Creature Encounters in NZ

Over the past few weeks, we've spent time mostly along the southeastern coast of the South Island.  Scott found a used surfboard, and we are in full-on summer mode.  Too bad the weather isn't necessarily in summer mode.  Is that what happens when the next land mass to the south is Antarctica?  For every one day of 75 - 80 degrees, we get 5 days of 60 degrees.  There is some fantastic scenery, and lots of sea lions, seals, and dolphins, so we are happy to explore despite the dreary weather.

The most exciting and memorable thing in the past few weeks has been our surf session with a pod of the rare and endangered Hector's Dolphins.  They are the smallest dolphin in the world and can only be found off the coast of NZ.  They were very playful and quite curious as they zipped around us and under us with amazing speed.  As long as we were out there, they never strayed far from us.  Many times, they popped out of the water within inches of us while never letting us touch them.  Priceless.
Snuggling in the sand

The southeastern coast is home to the NZ sea lion.  We've learned that the NZ fur seal that we started to see on the northeast coast favors rocky shorelines, while the sea lion favors sand.  It's been really exciting walking along the beaches to find sea lions resting.  A good way to spot a sea lion on the beach is to look for flying sand, as they sweep it over themselves to keep cool. One day, we were relaxing in the van, overlooking Blackhead beach near Dunedin, watching a couple of surfers.  Next thing we know, it looks like there are 3 surfers.  One of the guys had another "surfer" almost right on top of him.  We watched a sea lion (the other surfer) chase the guy out of the water and UP THE BEACH.  The guy was running through knee deep water with all his might, while the sea lion was riding the shore break to get to him.  Sea lions are amazingly quick out of the water.  It turns out the guy escaped unscathed.  I laughed for days.

We spent a few days at the Taieri river mouth where Scott caught one small trout while fishing.  The toughest fight came from a cockle that wouldn't let go of his hook.  Who knew cockles chased lures?

Fiesty cockle

We watched some locals collect pipis at the mouth of the Taieri river and decided to give it a try.  Pipis are like small clams and in fact, taste exactly like the baby clams that we've bought at the grocery store.  We couldn't get them to clean out their system (ahem, poop bag) so they were full of sand.  The cleaning process was ridiculously tedious. A bucket of pipis resulted to about a cup of meat.  Never again.  This story sounds very familiar to our experience with the fresh shrimp we bought in Australia, and the blue crab given to us by a friendly Aussie.

Bucket full of pipis
It is the start of peak tourist season, and we are starting to feel the effects.  We were the first ones to arrive, around 3pm, to a seemingly epic camping spot overlooking the ocean.  Since the camping spot is published in the tourist literature and is only $6, I had a sneaking suspicion that it would turn into a madhouse come 8-9 pm.  Unfortunately, I was right - reason #1001 to freedom camp?

Awesome campsite before anyone else arrived

In the morning I took a walk along the beach, over the rock walls, and surprised a little fur seal trying to get some shuteye on his private bed of kelp amongst the rocks.

Flippers tucked up

Link to November Pictures
Link to December Pictures

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