Monday, May 17, 2010

Whales and Wekas

 After fighting for two days off together (and getting our boss to cover a shift), we were finally able to go on a short trip together to Kaikoura.  Kaikora is a 2 hour drive south of Picton and is known for whale watching.  We spent our first day just taking our time driving through the stunning landscapes to Kaikora, checking out the town, and taking a day hike on the edge of town.  It was a beautiful day and we heard that taking this hike would bring us to an area populated with sea lions.  We pulled the car up to the beginning of the trail and put on our back packs when we noticed that we didn't need to go far to see the sea lions.  They were laying around about ten feet from the parking lot!  We heard the walk was beautiful so we decided to go ahead and hike anyways.  So, we took some pictures, got our fill of sea lions and started on the track.

  The trail was a steep incline and leveled off and went along the coast line for two hours.  We had a steep cliff to our left that sloped down to the crashing waves and to our right we had... cows.  The trail went alongside and through some private farm land where cows just graze and stare out at the ocean and the occasional hiker every day.  We couldn't help telling the cows that they had it so much better than their cousins in Iowa.

 Just like the rest of New Zealand, it was absolutely beautiful.  We were about three quarters through the track when we came to a stair case that led down the cliff to a path on the beach.  We climbed down and took the opportunity to have our lunch, explore the beach and climb some rocks before we turned around and headed back home.

  The next day we had made appointments to go whale watching!  It was something that neither of us have done before and needless to say, we were excited.  Before we got on the boat, we were warned of about sea sickness with the current swell in the ocean.  Just to be safe, we took a couple ginger pills although neither of us claimed to be prone to seasickness.  Here's some foreshadowing: What does a boy from the landlocked state of Iowa know about seasickness?

  If you were wondering how exactly does one go whale watching, let me tell you.  Because using sonar to detect the location of a whale disrupts and may confuse a whale in it's natural habitat, you're left to educated guesses and luck.  So, if you can imagine, whale watching mostly is listening for a whales own sonar, guessing where it might surface based on the time of day and previous sightings, looking all around the ocean on the deck of the boat, and darting from location to location.  To entertain those on board, there is a crew member with a great presentation on the flat screen and an information rich speech about whales.  If you have any questions about whales, you'll have to refer to Jen because I was the only one on board with his head between his knees in a cold sweat trying not to interrupt the speaker with me retching in the aisle.

  Getting out to the site and darting from location to location searching for whales went on for nearly an hour when we finally go word from the other boat of a sighting!    Once our boat got to the surfaced sperm whale, everyone scrambled out on deck, camera in hand.  Thanks to Jen, we were able to get some great pictures of the whale while it was surfaced and while I was battling waves of nausea and being on the brink of puking over the side of the boat.  Jen snapped photos as quickly as possible until the sperm whale finally collected enough oxygen to make another dive.

  One of our only other breaks from work was our trip to the Abel Tasman Track.  The Abel Tasman Track is also one of the Great Walks of New Zealand and typically takes 3-4 days hike one way.  We talked to some of the people we worked with and they suggested that we drive to the halfway point of the track known as Totaranui.  Borrowing some extra camping gear, we started our journey.  After nearly three hours of driving, we arrived at the closest small town to the track.  We stopped for lunch (and a beer) before we got directions to our campsite.  

If it weren't for the specific directions and map, we probably would of gotten lost of given up.  Shortly after we left town, the road turned to gravel, winded this way and that,  and ascended and descended so radically that it tested the Nissan Bluebird's will to live.  We arrived at a well developed campsite that had the potential of hosting hundreds of campers during peak season.  We checked in and noticed that we were two of around ten total campers in the whole camp grounds.  So we continued on to claim a camping bay that normally could host more than eight tents, all to ourselves.

  Trying to make the most of our time, we quickly got settled in, glanced at a map, and made the decision to make a hour hike (round trip) to a nearby beach.  We strolled though the  trail for nearly ten minutes before we started climbing a steep hill.  Neither of us were excited about this incline, but we were told that there was a hill to hike over before we got to the beach and it couldn't be that bad since the hike was supposed to be one hour round trip, right?  Well, every turn we took continued to climb upwards.  We trudged onwards but with waning spirits.  We were hiking directly uphill for nearly 30 minutes when we thought something was wrong.  Frustrated and sweating profusely, we decided to hike a few minutes longer because the hill should start descending soon.  Fifteen more minutes pass and we finally recognize that we had to of taken a wrong turn.  Frustrated, we turned around and backtracked.  Once on level ground, we started walking towards the camp ground looking at the signs more carefully.  Turns out, we did take a wrong turn.  We were on the path for Grog Hill, and Advanced mountain biking path.

  Laughing at ourselves (and cursing the unclear signage), we continued walking back to camp when we found the correct path to the beach.  Looking at the time, we knew that if we were to go to the beach and get back to the campsite before dark, we would only have around ten minutes on the beach.  So, after another 30 minutes of hiking, we fully enjoyed our wonderful ten minutes of beach time.  Yes, it was worth it.

  Once back at the camp site, we had just enough daylight to scrounge up some fire wood, set up our tent, and start making dinner.  We had a gourmet meal of potatoes, steak and a bottle of wine next to a crackling fire.  Near the end of meal, we started to hear rustling in the dark.  Dismissing it thinking that it's 'just the wind', we finished our meal and started playing some cribbage.  A few minutes later, we continued to hear rustling in the dark, but the sounds were getting closer and closer.  When

 the rustling got within 10 feet of our fire, we whipped around and turned on our lamp to see... a weka.  Now, a weka isn't a camp monster, it is simply a really friendly native bird the size of a chicken that enjoys raiding campsites for a free meal.  Slightly annoyed and with some rattled nerves, we shooed it away.  We spent the rest of the night drinking the rest of our wine and playing some games.  However, we had to take several breaks to shoo away the persistant weka which dared to get within arms reach several times during the night.

  The next day, we got up early and started hiking the other direction on the Abel Tasman track.  The hike went on for fifteen minutes before it reached a beautiful beach where we played some frisbee in the morning sun.  The trail went along the beach for a while until it was completely blocked off with rocks and boulders.  Looking around, we didn't see a path leading back into the woods or a path leading anywhere at all.  What we did notice, was an orange disk anchored into one of the largest boulders twenty feet above the beach. 

I went ahead and climbed along the boulders poking out of the ocean to notice that around that large boulder with the orange marker were some wooden stairs.  The whole thing was odd because we didn't notice any developed path, we just had to climb up all the rocks to this staircase that led back into the woods.  Once we got on the staircase, we continued on the track.  We walked along the track for another hour or two when we decided to turn around and head back to camp.  On our way back we came along the staircase on the boulder and came to the realization that we may of left for the track a little too early in the morning.  When we encountered this spot early in the morning we were walking the beach at high tide.  Now that we were walking back, the tide has gone down and revealed a much easier path up and down the boulders.  Who knew?  As we walked back to camp, we noticed the skies getting overcast and we were just able to eat lunch, pack up, and head back to Picton before it started raining.  Perfect timing to end a perfect couple days off.