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Dolphins and Whales



Since I started planning my trip to New Zealand, I knew I wanted to see dolphins, and hopefully swim with them. I have swam with dolphins before, but it was a very commercialized operation, catered to tourists with trained dolphins in Bermuda. I wanted to swim with wild dolphins. My mother had done this a couple times before in Hawaii, and I remember hearing stories when I was little about how wonderful that experience was for her. I needed to experience it for myself.

The day finally arrived. We boarded the boat early in the morning and set off from Paihia, and began the search for dolphins. We were lucky early on, dolphins had been spotted by another boat so we headed towards them. Everyone on board rushed to the bow of the boat and waited, I was almost holding my breath I was so excited. Then we saw them, swimming just in front of the boat. A jolt of excitement and pure joy ran through my body, and it took all my self control to not just toss my camera aside and jump in the water with them, clothes and shoes on. We were told we could swim with them, so those passengers that wanted to participate headed back inside to get changed into swim suits and wet suits. However, by the time everyone was ready to go and we were being briefed on how and what to do, the dolphins had swam away. I was quite disappointed.. I really, really wanted to be in the water with them. But these are wild creatures, this particular pod especially mischievous. So we all changed back into our clothes and continued along the cruise. Krystin and I sat on the second level of the boat, enjoying the scenery as we passed volcanic rock, islands, and coasted though clear green water.

“I want to see a whale..” I voiced my thoughts out loud to my sister. As soon as these words left my mouth the skipper announced over the microphone, “Folks I have a special surprise for you, we have spotted killer whales just over to our right side, we have some orcas over there.” I laughed at the timing of my comment as I dashed down the stairs whipping out my camera, grabbed a spot on the right side of the bow and prepared to see them. Tense with excitement at seeing more wonderful wildlife, I scanned the water.. then saw them. I could only make out the fins at first.. A few minutes later they were in clear view, swimming along our boat. There were five altogether, two calves who stayed close to their mother. These beautiful orcas were curious and interested in our boat. We enjoyed about half an hour in the company of these gorgeous creatures. We were told these guys had already eaten, because they stayed so long with us. One calf was particularly playful, and twice swam under the back and came up along the side of the boat, turning on its side to get a good view of us all eagerly leaning over to watch it swim gracefully by. This was the first time I could remember seeing orcas that were not caged up at an amusement park. I was practically giddy the whole time, whispering out loud to these creatures how beautiful they were (of course they could hear me) while I took hundreds of photos.

We were so lucky, to have already seen dolphins, and especially orcas, which apparently are not often sighted. This made up for not being able to swim with the dolphins earlier, though I was still hopeful maybe we would see more dolphins. We continued on our tour, visiting the famous Hole in the Rock discovered by Captain Cook, one of the first European explorers of New Zealand. We went through the hole and made our way along the coast, and just round a bend we found a small rock, with thousands of birds feeding on left over krill from an apparent whale. We hoped to see more whales, but never did.

We made our way back past the Hole in the Rock and to the island where we were supposed to stop over to have lunch. As we entered the bay of crystal clear light green water, they were spotted again, more dolphins ! A pod of 5 bottlenose dolphins. When we were told this time we could swim with them, because the dolphins had shown enough interest in the boat to stay around, I changed very quickly and was the second person jumping into the net at the side of the boat. We heard “GO! GO!” and I jumped into open water. The cold shocked my body but adrenaline pumped through my veins as I kicked my legs and pushed water past me to get closer to the dolphins. It was so hard to see them, we were told to look down into the water to see better through the snorkel lens. All I could see was green. I swam around, desperate to spot them. Then all of a sudden I turned my head, and there they were.. four of them coming from my left, not even 5 ft from me… My body frozen in shock, I was holding my breath, scared I would come too close to them. This was not a Sea World petting zoo after all, these were wild dolphins and I wanted to respect their space, despite my desire to jump on on their backs and zip around, whale-rider style. They swam gracefully and easily past me, about 7 seconds later they were out of my sight. I was slightly dazed in awe, but came back up to the surface, and started swimming towards them again. This became the pattern, swimming as fast as I could towards where I thought they were, and if they came into sight I just stayed still and watched in wonder as they swam by me. One dolphin swam in a wide circle about 4 ft below me. I was so lucky to have about 5 of these encounters with them, sometimes with one dolphin, sometimes 3 or 4.  We swam for about half an hour with them, although it felt like 5 minutes. Somehow my body got used to the water, or just went kind of numb, and I accidentally swallowed more sea water than I would have liked when I would get to excited and forget about the snorkel mouthpiece, but it was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.

 



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