Starting at sunrise and pacing the open decks of the cruise ship that I currently call home, I am watching the water for signs of life. A flicker of movement, and in focusing my slightly sleepy eyes, I catch sight of a little blue fairy penguin that looks no bigger than a pebble from deck five. In the distance there is a round object on the surface, through binoculars I am able to confirm that it is a New Zealand Fur Seal and not a crayfish pot. There are many more recognizable movements of pied shags diving down and returning to the surface to eat the fish that they have caught. Just when I am about to give up for the morning and prepare to go inside and get ready to join the first tender to shore, I spot it. Two small rounded fins moving almost in sync toward the ship. They swim up to the ship play for just a moment in the pressure wave created by our ships bow, and then are gone again, on their way to continue with their morning feed. That was what I had been waiting for, two moments of activity to confirm to me that today was going to be a good day. The Hector’s Dolphins are in the bay.
In the crater of an extinct volcano that last erupted 16 million years ago, lays a small village. This French settlement that lived under British sovereignty, is the village of Akaroa. It is known for its picturesque scenery and its quaintness. But one of the best features of this small village
is its harbor. Akaroa Harbor, and on out to the Headlands and Banks Peninsula tells us of its volcanic history, while its waters
hold some incredible wildlife.
That’s the true draw of Akaroa to me, a day spent on the water is a great decision no matter the day. While the cliffs are home to pied shags, and the harbor is frequented by little blue fairy penguins, the most charismatic resident is the Hector’s Dolphins. Dolphins of all types inspire quite a bit of intrigue from people, whether it’s for their intelligence, acrobatics, or their romantic image it doesn’t much matter. They hold considerable sway over our hearts and our imaginations.
Hectors dolphins, are some of the smallest and rarest saltwater dolphins. Measuring in at 1.5 meters and not exceeding 60 kilos, their presence is mostly in their personalities. Recognizable by their iconic rounded dorsal fin, they don’t travel in large pods like other dolphins, but they will get together in small groups and will often approach small boats to play in their bow wake, sail boats being their favorites to follow. Because the dolphins are so small it is hard to truly appreciate them from the open deck of a cruise ship. That leaves no option but to find your way onto a smaller vessel that will bring you closer to the water’s surface. A huge thank you to Ray of Akaroa Sailing Cruises for taking me out for so many incredible days on the water.