Saturday, 21 May 2011

Dolphins, giant trees, John Lennon, long soft golden beaches, and some more dolphins – welcome to Northland 2

The next morning was the beginning of what would become one of our absolute best memories from this trip. Memories that we will cherish for ever and can take out to remember whenever life feels a bit tough.
It was the day for swimming with these lovely, big, docile creatures that we both love so much. I have always dreamt about one day swimming with dolphins, but I never thought it would become true. And here we were on one of the few dolphin watching boats that have the permit to also allow passengers to go into the water with the dolphins, under restrictions.


The boat company did guarantee dolphin spotting, as the Bay of Islands where they took us is filled with these creatures and also as the catamarans that the company use attracts dolphins as they like to hitch a free ride on the waves created. They only use a third of the energy they would usually use when hitching a ride this way.

However the company does not guarantee the swimming part as it depends on what kind of groups one encounters that day. In fact, if the group has any baby or juvenile dolphins, then it is forbidden by NZ law for anyone to go into the water as the juvenile dolphins, that feed every 30 seconds from their mothers, will be too interested in the new play friends in the water that they might forget to eat for a couple of minutes. After only three or four missed meals they will start to become so weakened that they could die.

Likewise, to make sure that no harm is done to the dolphins, passengers are not allowed into the water if the dolphins are sleeping or eating as it can disturb them. In addition, only if the group seems playful and curious will passengers be allowed in.

It was hence not at all sure that we would be able to go for a closer up contact. As we were already happy just to be on the boat and see groups of dolphins swim around us and play with the waves, hitching rides and just enjoying themselves – anything more would just be a great plus.

But the luck was still with us and very quickly indeed. Only after about an hour on the boat, it was already time for our instructions – how to get into the water (no splashing as that means 'get the hell out of here' in dolphin language), not to touch them as it can harm their skin, safety measures and the need to swim fast to keep up with the dolphins because they cannot slow down as they then sink and act playfully to attract their attention.

On with the flippers, masks and snorkels and it was time to go in.
I was a feeling a bit of apprehension and stood at the end of the line. Nuno was super excited as always and was right at the top of the line. By the time I got into the water, he was already far away and was soon swimming next to a huge animal.

In fact, he had managed to catch up with two of the bottle-nosed dolphins and was swimming along with them for quite some time, while they were swimming around him in circles and jumping out of the water next to him. 
I was far behind, closer to the boat with the majority of the group as my strong breaststrokes were far from enough in the fairly rough water and my crawling skills were, well, crappy. I was really trying my best, but felt like I was hardly getting anywhere and for sure would never be able to catch up with Nuno and that group of dolphins. I wasn't ready to give up but I was for sure cursing my lack of crawling skills as it felt like it would be impossible for me to actually swim next to dolphins that day, rather than just in the same bay.

Then the guys on the boat started screaming at our 'slow' group to look down. I didn't really think they were talking to me but put my face into the water right as two enormous dolphins swam right under me. WOW! Or rather 'yelp'. I was so not expecting them to be right below me, or anywhere close to be honest, and I wasn't expecting them to be so big! As I made my little gulp of surprised fear, I took my head out of the water right as another dolphin jumped right next to me. Yelp number 2.
At the boat they were now screaming; 'yes, continue to make noises like that, they like it'. Continue to make noises of fear? I think not, but I did continue to make some noises into the water. Feeling fairly stupid. But what don't you do to try to attract the attention of a loved one? ;)

For the next couple of minutes, I continued swimming around watching as the dolphins kept popping out of the water next to some of the other swimmers. It was truly amazing.
As the dolphins had continued on, we were called back into the boat, were we stood exhausted but very excited, breathing quickly and trying to get some energy back for the second swim. We were in fact allowed three swims with dolphins, as long as all conditions were fulfilled.

At the second swim no one managed to get close to the dolphins, who had already taken off by the time we had stopped the boat and made it into the water. We swam around for a while, hoping for a few of them to return but with no luck.


Again I had been at the back of the group both for getting in (but this time not by choice) and while swimming. Although I felt really quite exhausted, I decided that next time I would be the first one into the water so that I had a bigger chance to get close to my 'beloved' ones once more.
Another group was spotted and the boat slowed down. As the group had already managed to move quite a bit away, the orders from the instructor was to swim as fast as we could to try to catch up with them. I knew it was not for me and almost gave up, but I wanted to at least try it one last time even though there was no way I could swim fast enough to catch the group.

So I stayed at my place as the first one in line to get into the water once the boat had slowed down enough for it to be safe. Right at that moment, the photographer started screaming about another group next to the boat. I quickly let myself slide into the water, careful not to make a splash, and right as I put my head inside, three of the dolphins swam right under me. I was truly in heaven.
Shorter than the first time, but with more success than the second time as everyone got to be next to some dolphins again this time, this final swim finished too early as the dolphins had continued their way. We were called back to the boat once more, and one by one we slowly ascended. Happy by our day so far, but sad that it was the last dolphin swimming chance that we had.


All of us except for Nuno that is. He was still swimming around and away from the boat. Trying to see some more dolphins and catching up with the ones far away. As he was once more called aboard, he finally realised that he was the only one left in the water and made it back to the boat. As everyone else took off their equipment and put them into the disinfectant, he stayed on deck, looking into the sea, full equipment still on, refusing to understand that the fun was already over. Like a small child, he looked like someone had stolen his candy when I went to tell him that there would be no more swims. 'But, the dolphins still want to play with us. Look there are a few right there just waiting for us.'
The swims were over, but we spent another hour cruising the islands and watching other groups of dolphins enjoying the boat. We also saw two dolphins jumping high into the water and touching out of air. These were supposedly two male dolphins fighting for a female one. An incredible image.
The cruise ended with a short stop on one of the islands were we went from exotic marine life, to very English country style with sheep all over the green hills. The view from the top hill over all surrounding islands was magnificent though.


 A truly amazing day that I hope to have the chance to do over once more in my life. Hopefully once I have learned how to crawl, although at the end of the day it didn't make much difference.

 Tired but oh so happy, we said hi to Lennon again and continued our trip up to Karikan Peninsula where we then spent our only night in an official camping site. I went for a long walk around 'our' beach and then over a small hill and around the next beach before we cooked some dinner on the small gas stove, uncorked a bottle of wine and enjoyed a lovely end of the day.

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