Sunday, February 16, 2014

New Zealand Day 4: Bay of Islands to Tauranga Bay

The downside of booking the dolphin watch boat was that it required an early departure from Aroha Island to head back into Paihia. Alex and I woke before the sun was up, had a quick breakfast, and turned the campervan back into on-the-road configuration before waking B. The sun was just up when we strapped her in and headed out.

The company that we booked with (Fuller’s) had several advantages when I was perusing the brochures: they allowed five year olds (one other company wouldn’t take anyone under eight), the boat was small (max of 35 people), and it had a low deck, translating to close observation of the dolphins. In certain cases (about 50% of the time, apparently), it would even be possible to swim with the dolphins, though Brynna would not be able to do that. Just in case, we brought our wetsuits along. Here we are setting out:

B is into the Pippi look these days, which is actually great because it prevents tangles.

We had a friendly couple of crewers and a couple of dolphin researchers on the boat, and we’d only been underway for fifteen minutes or so when we spotted a pod! It was quite a large one, fifteen or twenty dolphins, and turned out to include several babies, including one that the crew was quite familiar with (Luna) and one they’d only seen over the last or week or two. The dolphins were quite mellow, checking us out, doing a bit of frolicking (and showing some pink bellies, which is apparently a sign of some hanky panky going on beneath the waves), and occasionally showing us some jumps. It was amazing!

We don't have the bandwidth right now to upload video, but at some point we will do that. 

The dolphins are familiar enough with the tour boats that we were able to get very close, and they apparently scratch on the bow fairly frequently. We weren’t able to swim with this group because of the presence of the babies. The crew told us that dolphin babies have to nurse every three minutes! The other laws about dolphin swimming rule it out when the dolphins are feeding or sleeping, or in certain sea conditions, though the water was quite flat for our trip.

We stayed with the pod for half an hour, the law says that we have to move off after that, and so then we headed further out into the Bay of Islands to see what else we could find. Apparently the bay plays host to about 400 dolphins, though none actually live there permanently—a mix of bottlenose (like the pod we saw) and common dolphins (which like the open ocean a bit more). We had a lovely motor through all the little islands.

At one point we stopped to take a look at two little blue penguins floating and preening on the waves.

There was also an enormous rock that functioned as a rookery for sea birds.

We made a short stop on Urupukapuka Island of the only island in the bay where camping is permitted. B found some beautiful shells and used them to decorate a sand castle on the beach.

We motored around a bit more, but had no luck finding additional dolphins, so headed back into Paihia at noon. 

B was in desperate need of a nap at that point, particularly given the early morning wake-up, so we had a quick bite to eat and then she fell asleep in her loft bed. I went to check out the bookstore across the way, where I was able to find A Short History of New Zealand, a NZ triathlon magazine, some postcards, and a Kiwi Coloring Book for B. Then I grabbed some coffee and swapped off with Alex, who had a walk around and a stop at the farmers’ market. After his walkabout, I did another one, picking up a few more items at the market. We finally woke B up, she had a few minutes to play on the school playground next door, and then we headed off to Rainbow Falls. I am going to let Alex post separately with more details of his swim across to the falls…he even took some video! Can you see him in these photos?

 B and I had a nice scramble on the rocks surrounding the pool as Alex had his adventure.

After Alex dried off, we headed ever northward. Before B and I were distracted by the dolphins, my plans for our day had included another peninsula walk on the east coast and then camping overnight at Matai Bay, a beautiful beach. Instead, we scaled back and found the closest campsite to that peninsula walk, which turned out to be in Tauranga Bay, so that we could do the walk in the morning.

This turned out to be a gem, very quiet and right on the beach. Though we had power, it was spacious and felt more like a DoC site. Lovely! Alex and B worked on a sandcastle and I started on dinner: tofu and broccoli in a peanut sauce, over pasta.

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