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Fulfilled dream at Marlborough Sound

Added: May 16, 2010

Tags: NewZealand RTW animals photos
We arrived to Picton in Marlborough Sound quite late. After leaving Shambhala in the morning we found we got flat tire. I don't think it was caused by terrible dirt roads in Abel Tasman. More probable cause was the accident when we lost axle cap, but the roads here certainly did not help.

Then we found we don't have a lifting jack in the car, so we borrowed one in Mussel Inn, we were lucky the staff was there in the morning and they helped us. Finally we could not go very fast with emergency tire and the car rental company wanted to see the car before we could replace the tire so we needed to go slowly to Nelson. It was on our route, but we wasted lot of time.

dolphins and cormorant


After our arrival to Picton we made a few mandatory pictures and hurried to port. Shortly ago Zuzka found an add saying it is possible to swim with dolphins in Picton. That would be our last opportunity in NZ. But, of course, nobody does dolphin trips at 6pm.

We did not have much time and we wanted to see at least something in Marlborough Sound. Our ferry leaves tomorrow at 6am... So we went to nearby agency asking if they have some evening trip. The lady we asked probably could see we are desperate ;-) so she found some and not very cheap. "Come back at seven, we have something for you."

We spent time by looking around centre/port. It was nice place, relaxing. With sunshine and blue sky there was no reason for wasting time with going to hostel - we could do that later.

Port in Picton is very busy. It is place where ferries to Wellington at north island leave from.
ferry in Picton port





This is a view from Queens Charlotte Road I took before we arrived to Picton, but design of my blog does not allow me to put wide images at the top of page.
Marlborough Sound from Queen Charlotte Drive

We were back at 7pm. Boat was not ready, captain nowhere in the sight. No, it was not a scam, just some problems in office I guess. Then the captain came carrying a basket with 3 small bottles of wine, 3 glasses and some toasts. We joked it has to be for us.

And it was. It turned out our not so cheap cruise was ordinary mail/ferry boat trip enhanced with wine so that people paying for cruise don't feel cheated (OK, this is my interpretation, official name is something like Twilight & Sauvignon Cruise). But there were more people on cruise (not just travelling to other end) without wine. I guess there were cheaper tickets for those not looking so desperate as we did.

At one of the many stops of our boat. People either retire to these places or they go there on holiday.
In Marlborough Sound


Houses are at most spectacular places.

Looking for dolphins

We checked our ferry tickets later in the evening. To our surprise we found our tickets are for noon, even we instructed car rental company to book morning one. We don't know if we made mistake or they did, but it was like winning in a lottery! We are going to try swimming with dolphins in the morning!

Full of hopes we woke up early. It was completely cloudy, but not raining. Oh, they will not be operating, we were afraid. Like it happened in Kaikoura.

But we were worried too early, Marlborough Sound is not open sea, bad weather does not affect it much. We boarded our boat soon and went for this adventure.

We were told dolphins are unpredictable as well as their whereabouts and we might be lucky in 20 minutes or spend 2 hours while searching for them. You can guess which variant we picked.

In the beginning we went to Tory Channel and to the open sea. Nothing, only a few ducks. We returned and headed to other bays in Milford Sound (I have no idea where, apart from it was to east from Tory Channel).

It was pretty cloudy in the morning.






But it got much better in the afternoon. Following photos are from ferry to Wellington - in Tory Channel.



Hector dolphins!

After long time they decided to go for the safe bet - to show us Hector dolphins. It is not possible to swim with them, but it is better to refund only small portion of ticket price (downgrade to watching dolphins) compared to refunding to no dolphins spotted.

It is not possible to swim with them because they are endangered and heavily protected. For us, the problem with them is they are shy and not so playful. So for long time we watched only their dorsal fin or greyish smudges under water. After many terrible photos I started to toying with an idea I will probably begin to specialize on taking photos of Lochness Monster just to have something easier to photograph :-)

But then we changed location again and found a group of Hectors in better mood. Finally photos started to look better.

Hector dolphin in Marlborough Sound

Group of Hector dolphins in Marlborough Sound

Group of Hector dolphins in Marlborough Sound

Group of Hector dolphins in Marlborough Sound

I have a visual of Bottlenose dolphins!

Then we got a notification by local fisherman about spotting Bottlenose dolphins. We quickly put on our wet suites and moved to announced location.

On the other hand that meant we are not going to catch our ferry. But the crew was very helpful and arranged a change of our tickets for later. How nice of them, thank you very much (I forgot to ask their names).

Ready to go... errr... swim.

That's the guy. Thank you for good spotting too!

When we arrived to given place we waited until we could locate them. There is no point in jumping into water in the middle of sea hoping dolphins know the drill. They were 2 of them. We got close to them and just then jumped to water and started to swim closer.

In order to attract wild dolphins you have to entertain them. That's the law! One trick that works well is to sing something to them. So we did.

If you haven't hear me to sign you are lucky. These poor creatures had. It was even worse due to snorkel. It was my first time I used snorkel, it was not easy for me regardless singing, babbling and coughing. But it was well worth of it. They were amazing. Swimming around me and looking at me (Zuzka even claims one of them was smiling at her).


Bottlenose dolphins

After some time (I guess when everybody got tired, I meant people) we got back, changed to clothes and continued with taking photos.

These were easier to take photos, but we did not see any serious jump. There was one, not very big, but nobody caught it. I started to believe the dolphins can somehow use their sonar to learn where my camera is pointed at and appear at the corner of my field of view if I am lucky.




Ferry to Wellington

Afternoon we finally got to ferry and headed to Wellington. It was the 3rd time we were navigating through Marlborough Sound. It was finally wonderful weather. If we knew it yesterday we could save some money and skip the cruise we took. We could use that time to look around Picton.