Friday, May 26, 2006

Tuesday: Hanmer to Kaikoura

We had a relaxing morning and a nice breakfast in our little house in Hanmer Springs before leaving for Kaikoura. The drive over was pleasant, even though the weather continued to be rainy and the mountains were obscured by low-hanging clouds and fog.

Our original plans for Kaikoura included a dolphin encounter cruise, where the boat takes you out to visit with the lovely little dolphins for a few hours. We went to the cruise officce and signed up as soon as we got in to town. Our next stop was the travel center, which had a wall full of brochures for various hotels, B&Bs, and farm-stays. We opted to try the "A Good Life" farm stay/B&B. The travel planner at the information center made the reservations for us, and we said we'd be there at 4:00, after our cruise.

We got back to the cruise center, to discover that our trip had been cancelled. Apparently, those pesky dolphins had swum out to sea and out of the range of the cruise boats. We got over our disappointment and decided that since we couldn't see the dolphins in the water, we'd have to settle for seals on the shore. There is a seal colony just north of the town, on Ohau Point, so we set off along the coast in search of them. The results of our search were initially very disappointing. We'd been driving for a while and only seen a few seals where there were supposed to be hundreds. We had finally given up, and were turning around in a gravel lot, when we noticed a sign marking a trail leading into the forest and away from the water. The sign indicated that there was a waterfall 10 minutes up the trail, so (despite the rain) we decided to go for it and at least get a water fall out of our little adventure. We started hiking up the path through the forest, across a creek running down to the ocean, and up toward the waterfall.

The waterfall itself was beautiful, falling from about 50 feet up, into a lovely rock pool surrounded by trees and ferny plants. But even more spectacular was what was in the pool. At least 2 dozen seal pups were splashing around under the waterfall! They were doing acrobatic flips over one another, and diving around, just having a marvelous time. They didn't seem at all alarmed by our presence, and some even would flop their way up onto the rocks bordering the path. They were all incredibly adorable with huge dark brown eyes which reminded me of my little brothers (animals with brown eyes always do that...wonder why. ;o)) A sign nearby explained that the pups had come up to play in this pool where they would be safe from predators. We later learned that this was a completely new behavior for these seals. They had just started frequenting that waterfall a few weeks earlier. We spent a good half hour just watching them play before heading back up the path to the ocean. I joked about being seal-shocked afterwards, but I was partly serious. For the next couple of hours all I could think about was what we'd just had the privaledge to see and what an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience that was. Far better and more unique than any old dolphin cruise.

From there we went shopping (and I bought gifts-shh!) Around 4:00 we headed out of town towards our farm-stay at the foot of Mt. Fyffe. Our hosts, Brian and Marion Groufsky welcomed us and entertained us for the next 2 hours. Mr. Groufsky (for those of you who are acquainted with my family) is rather like what you would get if you took both my grandfather's quirks, mixed them up with some home-brewed beer, and set them to rise. He was completely mad, but very friendly and generous. (He even shared his own private jar of mussels with us!) Mrs. Groufsky is a bit of a home-maker genius. She cans all her own veggies, makes all her own jams and preserves, tends to their chickens and other livestock, and brews beer. They have 4 dogs, 3 of which are Australian Terriers, and all of which were extremely entertaining. One of them spent at least 30 minutes giving Uncle Sean's stockinged feet a good licking, and all of them would trail along whenever their people moved to a different room.

It was incredibly dark outside after the sun went down. It was overcast that night, so there were no stars. There are, of course, no street lights 12 kms. from Kaikoura, and in Kaikoura itself there aren't many, so there was nothing to relieve the total blackness of the countryside. We went to dinner at Donegal House, which was also out in the country, not far at all from the farm. Our dinner there was delicious (salmon and veges for me, mussels and Guiness for the others.)

We went back to the farm after dinner and we had the house basically to ourselves, since our hosts had retired by that time. We relaxed in front of the telly to watch last season's Apprentice, CSI: Miami, and House. We also downed some sauvignon blanc and more hokey-pokey ice-cream (which Mrs. Groufsky later gave us the recipe for-good woman.)

Around 10:30 we all headed for our nice warm beds (more electric blankets!) to get a good night's sleep in before we had to leave for Aust. in the morning.

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