After four days of waiting for the right conditions, today was going to be the day. Having spent the previous days admiring the seals resting on the rocky shores of Kaikoura, I was ready to see them in action in the blue water. And wow, was I in for a surprise.
I’ll be honest and say I hadn’t put much thought into the day with seals prior to arriving in Kaikoura. With all the climbs, canyons, caves and hikes of the previous few weeks, I had already had a pretty amazing time and was still planning the rest of our trip.
But that all changed on arrival of the bustling little town of Kaikoura.
About 3 hours north of Christchurch, Kaikoura sits in a bay of the Kaikoura peninsula. With epic mountains branching off from New Zealand’s southern alps and almost touching the sea, it’s a surreal setting to be lounging by the beach with snow capped mountains in the background.
With a relaxed vibe around town, we made our way to the eastern part and drove to point Kean. We hadn’t even parked the car and spotted a seal off to the side on a wooden walkway.
Accurate depiction of me after an adventure.
With no care for passing people, the seal rested and slept only occasionally opening an eye before changing its body position. As it was low tide, much of the rocky base is exposed allowing a good traverse along the shoreline. Moving along, the further away from the carpark we went, the more seals we saw.
It was nice to just sit there and watch them. A few poses by some and a little scuffle in the distance between some males kept things exciting. The occasional young pup can be seen as well. Since they are resting though, don’t expect too much action, but keep an eye out in the water. Due to their insulated bodies, they periodically hop in and that’s where the action happens!
GETTING IN THE WATER
We arrived at the reasonable time of 9:15AM at the Seal Swim meeting point. To ensure a good day for everyone, the Seal Swim team always wait for the right weather and water conditions to ensure you get the best chance of seeing the seals in their native environment.
Briefed by the experienced guides, we wriggled ourselves into wetsuits, grabbed some masks and snorkels, and jumped on the waiting bus to take us to the boat. With a large group, we split in two and were dropped in different spots.
We are reminded of the important things to remember when swimming with seals:
◘ Stay low in the water
◘ Stay off the land and rocks
◘ Do not touch the seals (no, you cannot hug them)
◘ Stay quiet
◘ And definitely stay away from seals on rocks.
It’s vital to not appear like another aggressive male seal by rising out of the water. And staying quiet, the opposite of what you do swimming with dolphins, is the seals preferred thing. They are curious and will soon come to check you out.
Quite familiar with wetsuits from my canyoning, I was again glad for them when I jumped over the edge of the boat. It was fresh!
Some quick kicking and swimming was done to warm up and then I started looking under the water.
THE FIRST SEAL APPEARS
Patience is the key with seals. Sooner or later they have to cool off and jump in. I reminded myself of this while looking around. Here and there I spot movement only to dismay as a fellow snorkeler comes into view. Due to adverse weather in previous days, visibility was OK, albeit a little murky, but is usually better.
Our guide in the water with us floated peacefully and kept an eye out giving a little whistle to get our attention.
Missing the first two sightings, I was eager not to miss the another. I positioned myself better in the group moving to the outer edges, and was rewarded. A seal!
Zipping by I had no time to get the Gopro camera recording. But I didn’t have to wait long. Soon, they were everywhere! As more entered the water, our group could spread out, each getting their own little ‘seal experience’.
It’s amazing to see these animals as they play and swim. Spiral dives and corkscrews with mind bending turns are the game of the day. Small rolls are used by seals to move short distances, while anything more than those few meters results in a powerful, yet graceful, flap of their flippers moving them out of your vision like lightspeed.
There’s no doubt they are made for the water, unlike us, spluttering and flapping away.
There was a moment. On its back underneath me, I looked into the seals eyes and it into mine. Then it let out a bouquet of bubbles right into my face! It rolls again and I swim in the same direction. Another stream of bubbles!
I wonder if the seal could see my smile? I almost laugh at the playfulness and choke a little on the water running into my snorkel from my outrageous smile. In the excitement my Gopro was off, but I am content with the memory.
My day is complete.
WANT TO DO IT?
Of course you do! Who wouldn’t! Seals are like the dog of the sea. Playful, curious and furry. What’s not to like? The best (and only) way to do this is with Seal Swim in Kaikoura. The guides were great and I love the approach they have to making sure they only take you if they know it is worth it.
Trust me, they know seals.
They have options if by some chance you didn’t get their standard of seal experience with a choice of a second free tour or 50% money back. Win/win if you ask me!
Here’s what you need to know:
WHERE: Kaikoura, Seal Swim meeting point found HERE on google maps
CONTACT: Seal Swim Kaikoura
WHEN: October to May (subject to conditions)
COST: $110 (at time of writing, 2018)
DIFFICULTY: Easy! Using a snorkel can be hard if you haven’t done it before but you get used to it quick. Wetsuits provide buoyancy so you never sink.
◘ Try and allow an extra day or two in your schedule in case some bad weather mucks things about. As the seal swim is in the bay and not the deep ocean, the weather and water are affected more than other animal tours in the area.
◘ Be sure to visit Point Kean, located HERE. You can walk along the rocky shoreline to the right of the carpark looking out to sea for lots of seals on the rocks. Make sure to observe all signs and keep your distance! And definitely don’t touch them!
Spending the morning or afternoon swimming with seals is part of everyone’s dream (don’t lie, you know you want to). Having done so many cool and amazing things in New Zealand, this will certainly still stay at the top of the list of my favourite things to do.
Getting outdoors and into nature is not only good for us, it helps make us aware of our planet as well. Heavily hunted in earlier years, seals are now protected in New Zealand.
Like taking a hike, climbing, or enjoying tours like this one, we realize there are always better ways to manage and conserve our amazing home. It all starts with taking a step outside, or in this case, getting a foot in water!
By Patrick for the Vertical Adventurer.