04.02.2011 - 06.02.2011 33 °C
After another long bus ride (12 hours, with an hour in Auckland), I reached my final destination in New Zealand - the Bay of Islands. The truth's in the name - there are about 150 islands in and around this large bay in Northland, at the very top of the country's North Island.
The little towns around the bay - Paihia, Russell and Waitangi, where the country's founding document, the famous Treaty, was signed - have much cultural significance, as well as being very attractive. As a popular holiday destination, the place is surprisingly unspoilt. Many people sail around the bay and there are countless secluded places to explore. Whilst I didn't get a chance to go sailing, I had already booked to go on a dolphin cruise.
The boat left early in the morning and, after a bit of cruising around the bay in search of them, we eventually found a large pod of bottlenose dolphins. These were larger than any dolphins I'd ever seen before; up to 3 metres long. Watching out for them is exciting - you see one, then another appears in the corner of your vision, disappears from sight as you turn to look, then another one surfaces the other side of your vision. So, your head is constantly turning and your eyes scanning the water's surface. Due to their fairly random appearance, getting good photos was really hard. I have a couple of brilliant videos, one showing a dolphin back flipping high out of the water, which I will try to upload...
For animals of their size, they really are very graceful in the water.
It is possible to swim with these dolphins in the bay (I'd brought swimwear!), however this pod had babies so we weren't able to. The reason being, the babies are so curious, they will interact and play with people so much that they forget to drink their mother's milk. They are so playful and use up so much energy that the babies need to feed every 10 minutes. Whilst they would enjoy swimming with people as much as we would enjoy swimming with them, it could be potentially very dangerous for them. Still, just seeing these animals was very beautiful.
Later in the cruise we came across a pod of common dolphins which, again, had babies, so no swimming with these either. These, much smaller, dolphins were very playful - they loved swimming alongside and under the boat. Unlike dolphins kept in tanks, which I disapprove of, these ones could easily swim away from the boat if they wanted to. The fact that they chose to be around, and follow, the boat shows that they really enjoy contact with people.
I lay over the front of the catamaran, so I could see down in between the two hulls and watch the animals up close. Sometimes one would swim between the hulls, easily matching the boat's speed, and it would hold eye contact. You can sense their intelligence, almost see them thinking, considering you, as their eye fixes itself upon yours. It's hard to explain, but felt very special. One of them kept splashing upwards with its tail, trying to get me, and my camera, wet. Whilst doing this, its eye never left mine - it was clearly playing a game of 'soak the human', and enjoying it.
On the way back to Paihia, the boat moored at Otehei Bay, on one of the many small islands. From here I walked up to the top of a hill in the centre of the island, which offered great views of the surrounding islands. This really would be a fantastic place to explore with one's own boat; there are countless little corners to explore.
The following day, 5th February - the day before Waitangi Day, NZ's national day of celebrations - I walked over the bridge to Waitangi. Whilst I didn't go inside the Treaty House, where British and Maori representatives signed the country of New Zealand into existence, it was interesting to be at the site of the nation's creation.
Being the Waitangi Day weekend, there were tents, stalls and people everywhere. Some Maoris, in traditional dress, were rowing across the bay and up the river in ornately carved wooden canoes.
To escape the noise and commotion I decided to do a walk from Waitangi. This trail passes through kiwi habitat. Whilst not certain, I think I saw something on the ground which looked like a kiwi, scurry off as I approached. Maybe, but maybe not.
I certainly did see, and hear, many other types of bird, including several tui, with their distinctive call, and a pair of herons.
At one point, the path became a boardwalk to cross the swampy mangroves. Scuttling around in the mud were tiny crabs and there was a constant clicking noise coming from the mud - snapping shrimp.
On Waitangi Day itself I headed back down to Auckland and spent my last night in NZ in the same place as my first - Frienz Backpackers.
After this, it was an early ride to the airport for my flight to Sydney.