A Roller Coaster Ride – Kaikoura, New Zealand Trip #2

January 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Posted in itchy backside | Leave a comment
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A little note from Itchyfingers: Apologies to those who have been waiting and wondering what happened to the rest of our New Zealand trip posts…2010 seemed to be a busy year for Itchyfingers, and it took a bit longer to sort out the more than 40G of digital photos…Will try to catch up on the posts!

It was our first road trip holiday. 🙂 From Christchurch, Itchyfingers set off to Kaikoura after collecting the rented car. Kaikoura, on the east coast of the South Island, is New Zealand best-known ecotourism destination and one of the must-do is whale watching! It is one of the only places in the world where you can easily see Sperm Whales.

To avoid disappointment, we pre-booked our tour online in Singapore as it is very popular among visitors. By the time we reached Kaikoura and checked into the motel, it was already close to 1pm. After a bit of washing up, we drove straight to the Whaleway Station to confirm our attendance first before finding food to fill the tummies.

Heading to the station for whale watching! So exciting! If you had watched
the film “Whale Rider” you would understand its logo here…

The centre was manned mainly by the indigenous Maori people. There was a TV screen listing tour timings as well as a report for the weather. It said that the water condition was a bit choppy and gave warning to people who were seasick prone to take some precaution. Not a good piece of news cos I AM one of those who will get motion sickness… 😦 Having seen pictures of people gathering on the deck taking photos, I thought that would be okay as long as there is fresh air. But we were told that we would be asked to be seated in the air-conditioned vessel for safety reason and only to come out when there is sightings of the whale. Well, as long as I can get fresh air should be okay, I thought…

Couldn’t change our tour to an earlier time so might as well get some lunch. Unfortunately for some reason the kitchen seemed to be closed for break so no hot meal was available. We didn’t wanna take the unappetizing and costly sandwiches as we had a mid-morning snack along the way. Only bought a drink to keep hydrated.

While waiting, saw helicopters flying past us sending tourists back. It costs
about NZ$165 for a 30 minutes flight over the Kaikoura Peninsula for spotting
whales in the air…thought it was a bit costly for such short flight…

The Kaikoura Peninsular

After a short briefing at the centre, our group boarded the coach for a short 5-8 minutes ride to the jetty. Boy…the guy’s accent was so strong and we were at the further end of the queue so Itchyfingers had difficulties catching what he said! I think he mentioned something about seasickness, something about sitting at a certain spot…Not too sure…and too shy to ask him to repeat himself… :p

Well, I soon learnt that it is better to be thick-skinned sometimes…

We boarded the vessel and had to take separate seats on one of the last rows as we were at the back of the queue. Who said Angmohs are not kiasu?!?!

Just few minutes after we set off, we could already feel the choppiness of the sea! There was one part that the vessel rocked back and forth so vigorously it was a bit like sitting on roller-coasters! And I am not exaggerating! The guide on board greeted us and started a short intro, and at the same time, specially cautioned those who were prone to sea-sickness to try not to hold onto it and dun be shy to use the motion sickness bags provided instead of hiding in the toilets. Gosh…must he remind us about it? But I thought that since I didn’t come with a full stomach, and we would get to the outside, it should be okay.

But the sea seemed to be getting rougher and rougher the further we sailed out. I could feel my tummy getting a bit bloated…I tried to take deep breathes and not to think about it and to look at the distant mountain range…unfortunately, the currents were too strong to be ignored…I started burping to get rid of the gas in my tummy…

Couldn’t recall now when were we asked to go outside to see the Sperm Whale…but it was not too long, maybe within 20 to half an hour’s time. At first I was kinda relieved that finally can go out for some fresh air. But the sea condition was so bad (at least to me!) that it was kinda tough trying to balance without holding on to something. Then we saw the Sperm Whale!

Geez…only got to see a small bit of the Sperm Whale…anti-climax..The Sperm
Whale has no dorsal fin, but rather a dorsal hump, as seen here, made of
flesh and fibre that appears 2/3 down it’s back

We followed the Sperm Whale as he swam, keeping to a safety distance so as not to stress the mammal too much. From the video presentation earlier, the whale was about the same size as the catamaran we were taking!

Then we got to see more its back…

Sprouting water from its blowhole!

“The blowhole, which is on the front left of the whale’s head, creates a spout
that is blown at a forward angle of about 45° and is 3 – 5 metres high. The
first exhalation after a long dive is like an explosion and can be heard up to
1 km away.” Amazing! Yes, it was quite loud

After staring at the whale swimming in the rocky current, I felt terrible…so giddy…We were told to go back inside first so as not to stress the whale too much…just as we were slowly making our way back, I felt my tummy turning upside down inside…I knew I gonna puke…but I was stuck in between the other people so there was no way for me to rush in and get the seasick bag or to the loo…damn…I should have brought out the bag…But just as I was about to puke, a hand sticked out to me with a seasick bag! I took it immediately and filled it immediately with my acidic juice. 😦 Thank goodness for the experienced crew,whose sharp eyes observed that I was one of those with weak stomach, for handing me the very much appreciated bag!

My legs felt weak, but I was feeling more embarrassed that I was the first one to puke. More commentaries were given by the guide but I couldn’t really concentrate…still feeling very upset, both physically and emotionally.. 😦

The guide was great, giving us nuggets of facts on Sperm Whales…

After a while, we were asked to go outside again. I stood up only to feel so giddy…

Another group of whale-watchers in catamaran. I would have gotten to the
top if only I was feeling okay…it should be even rockier at the top but the
view should be better…

Why was no one else feeling seasick? I swear the water was really choppy!

It can get a bit monotonous staring at the whale swimming so carefreely
in the water… Our guides were very experienced, so they could recognise
each whale from their markings. Forgot if this one we were tailing was a
male or female liao…But this was an indicative sign of the moment that
all of us were waiting for – the Sperm Whale had just dived in with its
back now arched….

And then the moment….!

The whale lifts its flukes high out of the water as it begins a dive! Magnificient!

The sperm whale’s flukes are triangular and very thick…can see it’s toned

Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus), the largest of the toothed whales,
grow to over 15 metres in
length and about 40 tonnes in weight. The bulls
are larger than the females

They can dive as deep as three kilometres into the ocean to feed!

It happened very fast, so if you were not fast enough, you would miss it…


The name Sperm Whale, comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal’s head. The sperm whale’s distinctive shape comes from its very large head, which is typically one-third of the animal’s length. Of course, from our catamaran ride, we could not see the head…

But the lucky and rich folks on the chopper and plane should be able to get
a pretty clear view of the whole mammal…So envious! Was feeling a bit
regret not choosing to pay for the expensive short ride…at least I am sure
I would not be seasick… 😦

After the exciting moment, I gave the crew my second bag of warm juice… 😦 Gross…Luckily I didn’t get to eat proper meal! Otherwise I would have felt even worse and more things to expel out! We were ushered inside cos it would be a while before the whale emerged out of the water again – there was record of Sperm Whale submerging in the water for 90 minutes! More typical dives are around 400 metres and 35 minutes in duration.

The third time we went outside cos there were sightings of many seabirds…

The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans)! My lifer!

Albatross in the water! The Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan
of any living bird – between 2.51–3.50 m (8.2–11.5 ft)

This should be the
White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata). Another lifer!

There were so much activities in the sky. I was sure there were some birds species that we missed cos they were too far and we did not bring our binos. Our vessels was shaking a fair bit so it was also tough to take decent photos. At the same time, we were also distracted by the acrobatic performance of the very adorable dolphins!

The Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)! This was the first time
I ever see wild dolphins! A group of dolphins is called a pod

Actually these highly gregarious Dusky Dolphins were a greater joy to watch
than the whale! Hahah…At one moment, they seemed to be circling and following
us…But they were so fast that I gave up taking photos or videos and chose to
just admire them. I had forgotten about my pain. I happened to watch
The Cove after my NZ trip and it was heart wrenching seeing the killing of these
intelligent mammals…

We had to bid the cute dolphins goodbye as our guide got a signal of the emerging Sperm Whale. Sperm Whales ‘click’ to communicate and by listening to these clicks using a hydrophone our skilled crew can determine where a whale or whales may be. They were careful not to approach the whale from the front so we had to make a turn. So we were again asked to go inside. I was offered a seat near the exit so that I could have more fresh air. But that did not stop me from vomitting again… 😦 It was my third bag of the trip…so embarrassing cos I was the only one getting motion sickness, even the kids were doing fine! The angmohs must be laughing at this stupid useless asian girl…sob…I just wished the tour would end soon…

I deposited my fourth bag of acid juice in the bin after going out again to see the emerged Sperm Whale…or rather it’s dorsal hump…Gosh…

It was towards the end of our tour. It would be our last chance to see the flipping of the tail before the giant mammal disappeared in the water again. So with cameras ready, all of us stared at the whale, hoping to capture the action once again. It was getting so cold, and I only had two thin layers under my fleece jacket. But the whale just continued swimming and spurting water from its blowhole occasionally. Shivering from the strong and cold sea breeze, with jellied-like unstable feet, I felt a contraction again from my stomach….This time, I had my vomit bag with me…Fishing it out quickly from my pocket, the acid came voluntarily out the moment I opened my mouth! How could I possibly find so much juice to puke?!? Tears of pain flowed out as I puked…Good thing, nobody paid much attention to me now that they were all concentrating on the potential action in the sea. It was awkward as I was sandwiched in the middle so I couldn’t move anywhere to throw the bag away. It would spill if left on the floor. Definitely not nice to throw into the sea! So I just sealed the bag and held it in my left hand and at the same time holding onto the railing, while holding the compact camera in my right hand – I was in no condition to shoot with the SLR anymore since the second time I vomited.

As I stood freeze in that awkward position, the Sperm Whale finally decided to do his trick. The experienced guide was able to tell when it was gonna dive and flip, so we were given ample time to get ready again. So, it was in my awkward position with left hand holding to my vomit bag, right hand operating the unsteady camera on a rocky vessel that I got this very precious clip of the day….I wished Tisu Boy had taken a photo of me “in action”.. Haha.. :p

But he was too busy taking photos…

Beautiful! And off he goes!

With this we ended our almost three hours of whale watching. It was great to be able to see the Sperm Whale so relatively close, better if I could enjoy the whole trip without leaving them bags of “presents”..haha.. Before I went to New Zealand I had always thought that whale watching is an expensive activity reserved for rich people. Well, we paid NZ145 per person for the 2.5 to 3 hour catamaran ride, not exactly cheap but definitely cheaper than the half hour helicopter flight. But I think if I knew I would suffer such bad seasickness, I would rather pay the extra NZ$20 for the shorter flight instead of suffering so much…hahah…afterall, being on a chopper is an experience itself…damn…hahah…

Also see related post:
> Mass Exodus – Christchurch, New Zealand Trip #1


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