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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Bars and beaches
10/01/2008, Hurunui River mouth

The Hurunui creates a shingle bar, maybe a mile long, as it runs parallel to the sea. The actual entrance, shown here at low tide, is a tiny gap in the shingle, with fearsome breakers at all times. It makes the entrance to Suffolk's River Ore look like a piece of cake.
Behind the shingle is a beautiful lagoon, which is obviously very popular with anglers. Not only humans; mollyhawks and gulls screamed up and down into the water all through our stay here.
The river then curves away from the sea, and runs through braided shingle inland. We did see dinghies on the river, but nothing of any size; it's shallow and fast running. We crossed the pretty swing bridge and continued our journey through Blythe Valley and Happy Valley.
This area, like much of the Canterbury Plains is seeing an increase in cattle; in these foothills they are stocky, chunky little beasts, though further out into the flatter areas, there are Fresians. This is a controversial policy, for cattle need much more water than sheep and environmentalists fear habitat destruction through using the rivers, and a permanent drop in the water table. It is also an issue for Christchurch, which relies on the water aquifers stored beneath the gravel and silt of this glacial plain.

Places and people
Birds, grass, river, sea
Windy
10/01/2008, Hurunui River mouth

Wednesday afternoon saw us heading south. A friend of a friend had recommended Gore Bay as a lovely spot, but when we got there overnight parking was heavily restricted and the grounds were already pretty full. So we pressed on, through exquisite woods and country south of Cheviot, following the gravelled roads towards the mouth of the river Hurunui. Here we parked on the cliff overlooking this amazing river entrance, our side door opening straight out onto the sea.

Places and people
The guardian
09/01/2008

Soon afterwards Jason found us another whale. This is Tiaki, which means 'guardian'. Tiaki was given this name because he has been seen fighting off orca which were attacking smaller sperm whales. (They showed us a video of this on the way back to base.)
All whales are named when they are known, according to Maori custom. In particular, if whales are stranded, they are named, and important ceremonies are held in their honour if they are so unfortunate as to die on the beach.
You can see from this picture that Tiaki is quite a size. You can only see about two-thirds of his length and the top tenth of his body. We really don't want to see one this close to Roaring Girl.

Places and people
Tono's fluke
09/01/2008

And this is Tono's fluke. All whales have individual tails; it's the key way to tell them apart. Also, when they dive, they leave a smooth patch on the surface of the sea, probably from sheer displacement. Each whale's patch is different, another signature.

Places and people
Our first sperm whale
09/01/2008

Lucky for us! Jason took us straight out to where Tono had last been seen, diving about 55 minutes earlier. And sure enough, five minutes later here he is, blowing his spout on the surface.

Places and people
Listening post
Calm
09/01/2008, Still at sea

Jason (the aptly named skipper) used the hydro-phone to help him find whales. It relies on whales' own tendency to use 'active' sonar' ie to emit noises in order to find things. (Passive sonar is just listening to other noises already happening.) It's a clever bit of kit, of a piece with a very professional operation.
Of course, the whale watching boats talk to each other about the whales they've found and what they're doing. Sperm whales dive for up to an hour and then spend five to fifteen minutes on the surface recovering. So if one is spotted, the others have that long to get to it. Also, the whales that are around Kaikoura a lot don't necessarily travel far during their hunting dive, so come up in roughly the same location where they were last seen.

Places and people
Just a little way out there
Overcast but calm
09/01/2008, At sea off Kaikoura

Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of the biggest businesses in New Zealand. It is Maori owned and run, and its CEO also chairs Tourism NZ. There are four of these boats, taking 44 people each and going out 3 or 4 times a day. They guarantee up to 80% of your money back if you don't see whales, so they need to be good at finding them.
It isn't cheap (NZ$130 each!) either, but it's also almost unique to have so many large whales come close inshore, and a semi-resident colony of sperm whales. Again, this is due to the Kaikoura canyon which is so close inshore. The nearest point is at Goose Bay (about 50km south of Kaikoura), where the sea depth drops to 800m, less than 800m from the shore.
If you look at a topographical map of the sea bed hereabouts, you see a big ridge which hooks north from Christchurch, and the canyon comes inshore behind this. So not only do you get this very deep water, but also relatively calm seas (emphasising the relatively), as the full frenzy of the Pacific has been broken over that ridge. A storm out there would be an unhappy thing to contemplate.

Places and people
Maui the fisherman
08/01/2008, Kaikoura town

At the Southern Bay end of the Kaikoura Peninsula walk, there is a modern waka and this arch showing Maui pulling up the North Island.
Footsore, we returned to Puff, who had the spent the day safe in the Kean Point car park. It was time to plug in (that old umbilical cord; Puff doesn't have nearly the battery power of Roaring Girl) and find showers. So we are in a holiday camp, all clothes clean and ready to go on our adventure to see whales tomorrow.
We are having enormous trouble posting at the moment, as Vodafone has not given a strong enough signal to make it possible. So this is posted from an internet cafe in Kaikoura, with apologies for the long delay in updating.

Places and people
Preening on a rock
08/01/2008, Off Fyffe House

And two shag-like birds, but with shining white chests.

Places and people
Elegance on a rock
08/01/2008, Armers Beach

The Kaikoura Canyon runs very close to the land hereabouts, an offshoot of the much longer Hikurangi Trench. Cold water wells up, meeting warm coastal shallows. Southern Ocean freezing seas meet the sun-warmed Pacific. Marine life flourishes, from the tiny krill that feed birds and baleen whales, to the orcas and humpbacks that chase seals and migrate through the Cook Strait to breed in Australian waters.
We don't know many of the birds at all, but here is a rock herons, looking elegant.

Places and people
Cliff walks and views
08/01/2008, Kaikoura Peninsula

Over the last fifteen months, a new day walk has opened up around the peninsula. This has splendid cliff views, the sea fading into the limitless distance. Next stop (so long as you're not blown too far south); Chile!
It's a great walk, supposedly about three hours, but we took nearer five what with stopping to ooh at the views, take pictures, climb down and up cliffs and chat to amiable acquaintances met on the way.
Inland of the peninsula are the Kaikoura Seaward mountains, shown here in cloud wreathed portentousness. For a while these were called the Lookers On, but then people realised that Cook gave the name to the peninsula itself. When he first sailed this coast, 57 Maori came out and looked at the Endeavour from their wakas, but refused to come close enough for contact. He named the almost-island the Lookers On after these people, but fortunately the prettier Maori name has stuck.
The name means 'eating crayfish' (kai, food and kouri, crayfish, which are superabundant in the waters here).

Places and people
Geology moment
08/01/2008, Kaikoura peninsula

Kaikoura peninsula was an island, created by limestone escarpments pushed skywards by tectonic action. It's directly on the faultline between the Pacific and the Indo-Australian plates, and is being pushed upwards by about 10mm a year. Erosion keeps the heights roughly constant. Silted gravel has created the narrow spit which now connects to the mainland.
Folded limestone created the great plates that jut out into the sea, the rocks that encircle the coast and the vertiginous cliffs. It is full of nutrients, so plants can flourish even in tiny cracks of the rocks where they get hit by salt spray and baked in the hot sun of this dry east coast.
The beaches alternate between the black of volcanic dust and the blinding white of limestone, all littered with rubble, boulders, strands and tangles of bull kelp and innumerable balls of seaweed. Your steps clatter and rustle between sand, shingle, and the popping of the weed, a little like unwrapping accompanied by stress relief sessions with bubble wrap.

Places and people

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