||May 15-20, 1999 Upper South
Island, New Zealand
Kaikoura Peninsula"OORP! OOOORRRP! ARRNT! AARRNT! ARRNT!"
"Woa, geeez! I didn't even see him!"
But he definitely let me know he was there and that I was too close and had better
back off! Until then, I didn't even know that seals had teeth. And I certainly didn't know
that they could be so LOUD. I just hope that his 'arnt' is worse than his bite (as I take
a few steps backwards so as not to find out).
For the most
part, these 200-300 lbs. sea mammals just lazily lounge on the rocks aside the surf,
undisturbed by us, and too relaxed to do much more than occasionally blink an eye open to
make sure we haven't wandered too close to them. But in this case I'd done just that.
While looking the other direction, I walked around a rock and unknowingly strayed and
within a few feet of a napping male, something that I think startled, more than
threatened, the both of us.
Suddenly surprised, he jumps up, and propping
himself up with him front flippers, puts on the most intimidating display he can muster. I
nearly drop my camera and loose my footing, as I jump back in shock. My retreat allows him
to lay back down, with careful eye still fixed in my direction, and return to his rest.
After my little 'close encounter of the natural kind', I do my best to
pay more attention and watch my step. If I do get close enough to get 'arnt'ed' at again,
at least I want it to be without the heart-stopping surprise. We gingerly walk through at
least two more fur-seal colonies on our way around the point.
as if they haven't a care in the world, these sleek mammals lazily lounge upon the rocks,
resting up before the next few days that they will spend hunting for food in the surf.
Those that have already ventured out into the sea, leave behind big dark-brown patches of
oil and sometimes clumps of fur, clearly marking their earlier resting places on the
sun-bleached rocks. Within a few short hours Mother Ocean will stretch her wet reach with
the evening's high tide, and the entire length of rock shelf that we're now exploring,
will be almost instantly covered with foam crested waves.
for now, we're able to walk out up to 300-400 feet away from the shoreline cliffs on this
almost flat, crack-crossed mantle. Before heading up the steep embankment to complete our
round-trip back to the van, we stop to enjoy the caress of the cool ocean air blowing
through our hair, and take a moment to appreciate the soothing sound of the surf crashing
against the rock. Certainly well known for its natural beauty, it seems that the peninsula
also has a national, as well as international, reputation for the variety of marine and
animal life that call it home.
Along with the more numerous (and some would say more mundane) flocks of
grazing sheep, folks travel for miles and miles to peacefully walk, camp, swim, and boat
among dolphins, whales, and numerous seabirds that roam both the waters and the skies. But
coexistence wasn't always this peaceful. It wasn't all that long ago that the Kaikoura
boats, fighting their way out to sea against the waves in hot pursuit of whales, were
shooting harpoons, not Polaroids. Back then, the cry of 'Dar she blows!' would most likely
translate into one less giant Sperm Whale in the seas off of the peninsula's coast.
Today, the fishermen of these waters haul in much smaller
catch. A variety of fresh scale and shell fish, including (we're pleased to find out)
lobster. And as it turns out, Kaikoura is Maori for 'crayfish (lobster) food'. Well, with
our little afternoon-long hike along the shore-line, and subsequent climb up and back over
the cliff-tops, we've worked up quite an appetite. We decide to splurge and partake
in this local delicacy. But rather than diving for our own (as some still do) we opt for
the lazy man's way out and 'hook' them, pre-cooked, at a locally famous seafood take-out
joint. We crack open the steaming hot shell and dig out some of the succulent white flesh.
Delicious! It's so good, in fact, that Laura swears (between bites) that it's the best
lobster she's EVER had. I might just have to agree with her - it's absolutely
mouthwatering. Hey, I wonder if our friendly neighborhood seals are lobster lovers too -