Akaroa’s Wildlife and Coast Up Close

Happy New Year! There’s no place we’d rather be rolling into 2017 than Akaroa. The sun is out, it’s freakishly hot, and the turquoise waters of the Akaroa are calling, this time with Coast Up Close!

We’ve been out on the Akaroa Harbour three days in a row now. Each time has been wildly different, from the wildlife interactions to the sections of the coastline that we explore. Coast Up Close is taking us even further out of the harbour today to show us what wildlife lives along the rugged coast of Akaroa.

A boat with a view

The main wharf is pretty quiet at 10am on New Year’s Day. Boating is not something you’ll want to do if you are nursing a hangover. We meet Tony, our skipper and guide today on the Wairiri, meaning “angry waters” in Maori. It certainly doesn’t look like it will have to deal with any angry waters today, but it does mean that it does have good maneuverability to, well, get close to the coast! Joined by his “first mate”, Anna, who is on a working holiday from France that we think we can all agree has one of the coolest working holiday jobs out here, we are welcomed onto the boat. With an open front deck, top deck viewing area, open sides and back (apologies to all you boat lovers out there who are cringing at our lack of boating terms), it’s fair to say that if there’s wildlife, we’ll definitely see it on this boat! Although there is also an indoor cabin with tables and seating, we can tell you now, that we don’t spend much time in here. What’s out there is too good to miss!

Epic scenery and wildlife spotting combo! Epic scenery and wildlife spotting combo!
We'd like to say that this tern flew through the Elephant Rock arch, but... We'd like to say that this tern flew through the Elephant Rock arch, but...
Hector's dolphins gliding along with the bow Hector's dolphins gliding along with the bow
The dolphins love hanging out with the boat The dolphins love hanging out with the boat

Joined by the world’s smallest dolphins

After a quick safety briefing from Anna, we are slowly leaving the wharf and cruising steadily to the outer harbour, just so there’s a slight breeze to cool us down in this blazing sun, but not so we are getting blown away! With the unreal turquoise waters and towering coastal cliffs in all directions that make up the crater of this ancient volcano that the harbour sits in, we almost forget that we’re here for the wildlife. But it’s not long before our steady speed picks up the interest of a few dolphins: the smallest species of dolphin in the world. Two, three, then four Hector’s dolphins start gliding right under the bow of the boat! They are so close that taking photos and watching their agile gliding is super easy to do simultaneously – and you know how hard it is to photograph wildlife sometimes?! They never co-operate! But the Hector’s dolphins know how to work the camera, and Tony knows how to work the Hector’s dolphins…

Leaps and bounds

“We’re going to speed up so you can watch the dolphins jump,” he says at the front of the boat, while Anna is manning the wheel. He gives the signal to Anna and we steadily speed up giving the dolphins some momentum to swim up in front of us. One show-off jumps out of the water for all to see, us reacting with “Oos” and “Ahs”.

That’s certainly not our last dolphin sighting on this trip, it seems like they come up to the boat every 20 minutes or so, but there’s more wildlife to see out there!

Caves and coast: having a closer look at the Akaroa coastline

Fishing with tony

Tony is one of those classic Kiwis: he loves to fish and he’s happy to take us on a little detour while he gets some bait for his crayfish pot (used to lure and catch crayfish). A good fishing spot just happens to be around a majestic coastal area known as the Elephant Rock, due to it’s shape, and Cathedral Cave. Seabirds, including the elegant white terns, mark the spot where the fish are. While Tony is casting his line, we are getting some beautiful seabird action with terns diving into the water. We even see some fish popping up to the surface.

Only about five minutes later, Tony is getting frustrated that it, “it doesn’t usually take this long,” and calls it a day on the fishing. Too bad, Tony! Nevertheless, there still might be a crayfish waiting in your pot for you.

up close to a seal colony

We leave the Akaroa Harbour, turning into another inlet where the name “Coast Up Close” really gets its meaning. The boat slowly makes it way down a narrow inlet, home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals. It’s pretty special to be watching seals swimming, doing rolls in the water, jumping off and onto rocks, all in their natural environment.

We go to check out another inlet, this time with seal pups playing in the rocks pools. Although this inlet is much wider than the last, this doesn’t mean that we don’t go in caves! At one point, the boat is cast entirely in shadow as the sea cave gives us a roof over our heads!

Having a good shake-off Having a good shake-off
Looks like Tony will be eating well tonight Looks like Tony will be eating well tonight
Getting ready to dive Getting ready to dive

Cray-zy about crayfish

On the way back to the harbour and in between spotting more of the world’s smallest dolphins (and even a couple of sightings of the shy little blue penguin), we stop by Tony’s craypot to see if he is eating dinner tonight. It’s a vicious battle between Tony, kelp and the craypot, but with brute strength he manages to pull up the pot with one large crayfish! This is a New Zealand specialty, also known as a rock lobster. Tony tells us a little bit about the crayfish showing us how to tell whether it’s a male of female, for instance. Then takes it to a fish bin on the back of the boat.

Experiencing like a local

For most of the tour, Tony has been at the front of the boat, talking to all the passengers, telling us about the wildlife we are seeing in a more personalised way than through a microphone. It feels like going on a proper Kiwi boat trip with a local than the traditional “boat tour” style.

The kindness of kiwis

We say goodbye to our local Kiwi friend, feeling envious of his dinner, and drive back to our accommodation in our saviour of a car, the Jucy rental car – the last one available during this crazy Christmas and New Year’s period. Since our campervan broke down on the way to Akaroa, the team at Pohatu Penguins have been super kind to host us, and are even inviting us for a classic Kiwi barbecue and board game session this evening. Man, you’ve got to hand it to the Kiwis – they are super welcoming.

Because we have been spending so much time with the Pohatu Penguins crew, they may have twisted our leg to join them on another trip tomorrow. Judging by the time we had with them last time, seeing New Zealand’s largest colony of little blue penguins, we think it’s going to be epic! Join us tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

Exploring every nook and cranny of this stunning coastline
Exploring every nook and cranny of this stunning coastline Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Until tomorrow’s blog post, go for a walk, paint a picture, or check out these articles:

We also like to hang out on HerePin, post pretty pictures on Instagram (#BackpackerGuideNZ to be featured), and post daily travel tips dedicated to New Zealand on Facebook!

See you tomorrow!

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