From 12/1999-1/2000, my wife and I went to New Zealand with another couple, our closest friends. We were all together for parts of the trip, especially the millennium new year’s eve, and split up for parts of the trip since we have slightly different interests. They are less interested in wildlife than we are.
My wife and I are strongly of the belief that it is better to see a few places well than to race from place to place to place and see none of them well. To that end, we not only did NOT combine this trip with Australia, we did not even make it to the North Island of New Zealand other than to fly through it.
This trip will serve as a good example of how my photographic skill and equipment have improved with time. I probably considered these photos very good at the time. I no longer do. Looking at them, I just downgraded the rating I gave them on my voting page for the next travel write up. I hope these do not disappoint too badly. Of course, these are the best. I hope you’ll find them interesting.
Our trip started with about 32 hours of air travel and airports before landing in Christchurch. After this time, we arrived a tad tired and had a 3.5 hour drive to Kaikoura ahead of us … on the
wrong other side of the road. Since it has been almost 8 years since I was there, it is possible that I will be incorrect on a scenery photo or two. If any Kiwis see this, recognize the places, and correct me, good on you and kia ora.
Kaikoura is the best place in the world for viewing sperm whales. In toothed whales (taxa odontocetes), the males are larger than the females. The steep drop off to deep water here causes a huge upwelling that attracts the large males. I’m not sure whether the information about the diving behavior of the sperm whales has been updated. Certainly they can dive for well over an hour to depths of over a mile. And, these animals have the largest brains in the world, at 20 pounds. They dive for giant squid in the depths of the oceans.
Their behavior at the surface is typically not nearly as exciting as humpacks. They lie on the surface for a while, 20 minutes or so, reoxygenating their muscles for the next dive. Then it’s three deep breaths and a push forward into a deep dive and find another whale to watch because that one isn’t coming up for over an hour.
This is a typical view from a boat as the flukes go up during the start of the deep dive.
This is the view that you may get if you take a helicopter to see them from the air.
Also at Kaikoura, one may go swimming with dusky dolphins. Unfortunately, the dolphins with whom we attempted to swim were essentially just passing through rather than feeding in the area, so did not pay much attention to us. I’ve heard it can be quite interesting if they do pay attention to you. One trick is to bring a pregnant woman. They can, through sonar, see the baby. Some women have learned of their pregnancies this way. Duskies are extremely sexual creatures. They mate 7-8 times a day for their entire adult life. They will even mate with other dolphin species. Here is a scenery photo with a dusky doing a major flip in the center.
We also saw some very interesting interactions between the sperm whales and a small pod of killer whales. The large male sperm whales got together and drove off these three killer whales. Of course, the distances between them made any photo of the interaction impossible. But, it was clear to us and to our guide that this was happening. Note that the high dorsal of the closest (rightmost) killer whale indicates that he is a male. The other two are females (or possibly immature?).
We also saw a fur seal swim by while we were at sea.
We had seen keas in the Mount Cook area. However, on the road to Fiordland we got our closest photo. These are incredibly interesting, intelligent, and playful birds. We saw adult birds rolling around on the lawn playing like kittens. They have a habit of stealing shiny objects. One of our guides was 3 days out on an 11 day hike watching keas and forgot to keep count. One went around the back and stole her only spoon.
There was also a case of people attempting to sleep at the major hotel (Mount Cook Hotel, I think) with a corrugated steel roof. The keas were playing early in the morning by rolling pebbles down the roof. The guests, trying to scare them off so they could go back to sleep, banged on the roof with a broom handle. The keas were curious about the noise. So, one continued to roll pebbles while the other hung upside down from the eaves to look in the window and find where the noise was coming from.
On a cruise in Doubtful Sound, we saw bottle nosed dolphins. This was a thrill for me given their status as having the second highest EQ in the animal kingdom (or tied for highest, depending on who you ask and whether you include their blubber layer).
Here’s a scenery photo that I think is from Doubtful sound, though it could be from somewhere else in the region.
And here is one from the next fjord over, Milford Sound.
Next we went back toward the East Coast, a city named Dunedin that is one of several that claimed to be the first to see the new millennium. This obviously applies to local time only since everyone sees the new millennium at the same time in GMT anyway. A short drive up the coast, we saw the little blue penguins at Oamaru. It would have been nice to have a big fast lens, but with my lenses and skill level, this was the best I could do.
In Dunedin, there are a couple of other good locations for wildlife viewing, one for royal albatrosses, which look very similar to the wanderers in my Antarctica log, where the photos came out much better, the other for yellow eyed penguins, like this adult head shot and chick full body shot.
I’m not sure exactly where we saw this waterfall.
At the end of the trip, we went to Fiji for three days of relaxing and snorkeling on Navini Island. There we saw this beautiful sunset and some amazing fish.