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New Zealand - Blenheim to Kaikoura

Wine and Whales

Blenheim, vineyards, Redwood Pass, Seddon, Lake Grassmere, Wharanui (Saint Oswald’s), Clarence, The Store Kekerengu, Okiwi Bay, Ohau Lookout Seal colony, Rakautara Stream Bridge, Half Moon Bay, Hapuku River crossing, Kaikoura

Monday 1st February 2016 Blenheim to Kaikoura
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We left Blenheim early (remembering to reconfirm our whale watch trip), and set off down the State highway 1. At first it was up into the dry hills, passing yet more vineyards. Then the road bent round, leaving Marlborough county (pic 1), past St. Oswald’s at Wharenui (pic 2) and entering Canterbury toward the coast- very pretty coves. Along the way we passed New Zealand's salt works at Lake Grassmere, 1800 hectares of lake where salt water is pumped in and evaporated. Nearly 40,000 tons are treated. The road continues for 40 km along the coast, so we had lots of lovely sea views! We stopped at Kekerengu (maybe 3 houses!) at The Store http://www.thestore.kiwi Kaikoura Coast State Highway 1 Kekerengu, Marlborough for a coffee and cake- a nice cafe with a pretty view out to the Pacifics sea. It later turned out we had found the cafe judged the best in Marlborough (pic3 below and 1 in next set).
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After coffee we continued on our way, following along the coastline, through Clarence (a small settlement) and over the Clarence River/ Waipapa Bay (pic 2). East was the turquoise South Pacific Ocean and west the towering Kaikoura Ranges. As we drove we saw a great pulling in point with a good view, so we pulled in. It turned out to be the Ohau seal colony and waterfall. The colony was quite large with some mothers teaching their cubs to swim in safe rock pools whilst the bulls were sunning themselves further out. There was some amusing interaction between the sea birds (mainly large albatross) and the seals, especially the bulls. Opposite we could see the rollers crashing onto Half Moon Bay (pic 3).
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Fur seals (Kekeno) are the most common seals in New Zealand and their population is growing. They are very good swimmers and can travel great distances. Fur seals are distinguished from other seals by their external ear flaps and hind flippers which rotate forward, allowing them to move quickly on land. In New Zealand, fur seals tend to be found on rocky shorelines. The seal has long pale whiskers and a body covered with two layers of fur. Their coat is dark grey-brown on the back, and lighter below; when wet kekeno look almost black. In some animals the longer upper hairs have white tips which give the animal a silvery appearance. The New Zealand fur seal feeds mainly on squid and small fish but can take conger eels, barracuda, jack mackerel and hoki. They dive deeper and longer than other fur seals. Female fur seals on the West Coast are known to occasionally dive deeper than 238m, for as long as 11 minutes. Before the arrival of humans a population of 2 million fur seal/kekeno inhabited New Zealand. They were taken as food by Māori, and the onset of European sealing for meat and pelts in the 1700/1800s pushed them to the brink of extinction. In 1978 fur seals were protected by the Marine Mammals Protection Act, and have grown in numbers.
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New Zealand kekeno spend most time on rocky shores, at sites called haul-outs. Every year, they return to the same area for breeding. Their haul out sites can get noisy! Fur seals make calls for many reasons; males during threat displays, and females and pups when trying to find each other after a foraging trip. The breeding season takes place Nov-Jan. Dominant bulls put on displays of glaring and posturing and fighting with other males just prior to the breeding season to gain territories. Fur seals are polygamous breeders; a male may mate with many females. Females mate 6 to 8 days after the birth of their pup, even before their first foraging trip. To ensure that the next pup is born during the warm summer months next year and not while she is still taking care of her current pup, fur seals use a method called delayed implantation- the egg is fertilised, but does not implant in the uterine wall for 3 months. Females alternate foraging trips (1 - 20 days at sea) to feed, with attendance periods (1 - 2 days) at the rookery to suckle. As the pups grow, the females take longer foraging trips. Pups spend a lot of time playing with other pups and objects such as seaweed and reef fish to gain skills such as foraging, anti-predator and social behaviour. Great white and sevengill sharks are the main predators of seals. Killer whales (orcas) and leopard seals may also prey on kekeno.
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After a good look we drove on to Kaikoura.

A beautiful town along the seashore of a peninsula with the backdrop of tall mountains- our hotel, Admiral Court Motel on Avoca St, was at the far end overlooking the edge of the bay, in a pretty area with an amazing view of the bay. We drove back to town to have a seafood lunch at the Adelphi and Steve discovered green-lipped mussels. He is now a FAN! At lunch we realised the best restaurant in town, the Green Dolphin was right next to our motel, so we reserved a window table for dinner. We fancied a bit of retail therapy and the town is much cheaper than elsewhere, so we bought some lovely cufflinks for Mark and Steve and some nephrite and paua shell jewellery for Emma and me (Jade Kiwi Shop www.jadekiwi.nz) .
The name Kaikoura means 'eat crayfish'. The story is that Tama ki te Raki had a meal of crayfish here, pausing on his journey around South Island in pursuit of his three runaway wives. The peninsula, providing abundant food and shelter, has over 800 years of Māori tradition. The earliest Māori hunted moa and sheltered in coastal caves. A grave found the skeleton of a man holding the largest complete moa egg ever discovered and a pakohe adze. There are 14 fortified pā sites on the peninsula hills. Today Ngai Tahu occupy the area (Takahanga Marae). The whaling industry attracted the earliest European settlers to the area. Whales occur here because of the unusually deep waters close to shore and whales pause in their migration from feeding grounds in Antarctic waters to breeding grounds in the warm sub- tropical Pacific. Robert Fyffe established the first shore-whaling station, Waiopuka, in 1843; other stations were built soon after in South Bay. Due to whaling industry, whale numbers declined after 1850 and became uneconomic. Today, Kaikoura is internationally renowned as a whale-watching location.
Fyffe House, built by George Fyffe in 1860 and standing on piles made from whalebone vertebrae, provides a link with Kaikoura’s whaling days. It is
situated on the way to the northern end of the Walkway.
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Then we drove around to South Bay. We had planned on a swim, but it was too rough. The grey beach was created by eroded mudstone. Instead we parked at the far end and went for a walk over the cliffs on the Peninsula Walkway. The path, some of which is paved or boarded started along the bay with a variety of seabirds sitting on small sea crags watching us including Spotted shags, mollymawks, tern (white fronted and fairy) and shearwater.
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Albatross are the main attraction for birdwatchers at Kaikoura. Wandering, Northern Royal and Southern Royal albatross can be seen, as well as many of the smaller albatrosses, including Black-browed, Campbell, White-capped, Salvin’s, Chatham Island and Buller’s. A great albatross in flight against a backdrop of mountains is a memorable sight. Kaikoura is the best place to see Hutton’s shearwaters, because although they disperse around northern NZ waters and across the Tasman to Australia, they breed nowhere else. Hutton’s shearwaters feed in the waters around Kaikoura, and breed high in the Seaward Kaikoura mountains. At sunrise you can see rafts of them on the water, preparing for a day at sea after flying down from their alpine colony or flying in endless streams. They gather in thousands on the water close to shore in the evening, waiting to return to their colonies under cover of darkness. Several other species of shearwaters are commonly seen, as well as prions, petrels and seabirds like little
penguins, Australasian gannets, white-fronted and Caspian terns, and all 3 native species of gull.
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Hutton's shearwater colony, adjacent to the walkway, is a sanctuary for these unique birds and an opportunity to experience an active sea bird colony. The 500m long, predator-proof fence keeps out rats, cats, possums and stoats as these burrow-nesting birds are vulnerable to predators. From a population of millions, Hutton’s shearwater (Puffinus huttoni) population has declined to less than half a million. The colony has a breeding population of 100,000 pairs, but despite this relatively high number the species is nationally endangered. Hutton's shearwater (tītī) was known to Māori, providing a major source of protein to Ngāti Kuri. Chicks were harvested from their burrows shortly before fledging and preserved in pōhā/kelp bags. Hutton’s shearwater was first described in 1912, at high elevations in the Seaward Kaikoura Range, behind Kaikoura. Extensive searching led to the confirmation of 8 colonies, but only 2 remain today. The distribution of Hutton’s shearwaters within New Zealand waters is poorly understood they are difficult to distinguish from the Fluttering shearwater. Hutton’s shearwater is one of the few New Zealand seabirds to solely breed on the mainland. Hutton’s shearwaters have a longer chick-rearing period than other Puffins due to difficulties in obtaining sufficient food and the energy costs associated with a colony high above sea level. Each day adults travel 20 km to sea, to feed on fish and krill, which are later fed to the chick. On their downhill flight they travel up to 154 km/h, reaching the ocean in 7 minutes. The return trip takes 38 minutes, with 1200 m or more in altitude to be gained with a belly full of fish. A third colony (Te Rae o Atiu) was established on Kaikoura Peninsula in 2005; a joint project by Te Runanga o Kaikoura, Whale Watch Kaikoura and DOC, with a predator- proof fence and chicks transferred to ‘imprint’ on the site. Chicks raised here are already returning and producing their own offspring. We saw this secondary colony later when we walked from Point Kean, as well as the information plaque on the Walkway directly above.
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Royal Albatross (toroa)- Renowned ocean wanderers, they travel as far as 190,000 km a year from their breeding grounds to feed. Along with the wandering albatross, royal albatross are the largest seabirds in the world. There are two species of royal albatross, southern and northern. The southern is slightly larger and is distinguished from the northern by white upper wings with black edges and tips, whereas the northern is completely black. Both have a black edge to their upper mandible, which sets them apart from the closely related wandering albatross. While royal albatross are graceful in flight, their large size makes them clumsy on land as they doggedly walk from their nests to take off into the wind. Toroa are some of the longest-lived birds in the world, regularly living into their 40s. Although they will eat fish, royal albatross feed mainly on squid plucked from the sea. Toroa have spiritual significance to many iwi. Moriori of the Chatham Islands wear plumes of hopo (the local name for toroa) to signify their allegiance to the pacifist principles of the chief Nunuku Whenua. Taranaki iwi likewise wear toroa feathers to show loyalty to Parihaka prophet Te Whiti O Rongomai, a pioneer of non-violent civil disobedience. Toroa breed only in New Zealand waters. They spend most of their lives at sea, returning to land only to breed and raise young. Royal albatross mate for life, despite long separations at sea, returning to the same nesting area every year. When a chick is fully fledged, it will stretch its wings and with the help of a large gust of wind, take off for its first major voyage. Young albatross spend several years away from New Zealand feeding in South American waters.
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Wandering Albatrosses- split from the mollymawks long ago. The group comprises the largest of the albatrosses. Gibson’s albatross and Antipodean albatross are the most common at Kaikoura. There is debate on the split of Gibson’s and Antipodean albatross, with some countries (inc NZ) recognising the split, whilst others classify them as one species. Although feeding mainly on squid, Gibson’s are frequent visitors to fishing vessels, with discarded offal and fish processing waste comprising part of their diet.
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Fairy Tern- With a population of 45 (12 pairs), the New Zealand fairy tern is New Zealand's most endangered indigenous bird. The New Zealand fairy tern/ tara-iti is the smallest tern in New Zealand, 250mm, and only 70 grams. NZ fairy terns are easily spotted by their black caps, grey feathers, white chest, yellow bill and orange legs. Fairy tern construct nests on exposed, low-lying shell covered sand; a simple scrape in the sand, amidst shells. It is often confused with the Eastern little tern, a bird that visits New Zealand every summer, and looks very similar. Fairy terns diets consist of
small fish hunted over shallow estuaries, and just beyond the surf zone.
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Black shag/ Kawau is the largest shag in New Zealand. Seen in the past as a competitor with fisherman for commercial fish, it is now better understood. It builds nests on coastal cliffs and in macrocarpara trees. It is seen around Armers Beach Lagoon (Kaikoura Peninsula) or resting on rocks around Kaikoura Peninsula. Shags feathers are designed to absorb water (unlike the feathers of many other seabirds which repel water) to make the birds negatively buoyant. They can be generally be seen sitting on rocks with their wings spread out drying their feathers.
Mollymawks- a general term for a group of Lesser Albatrosses of which 12 varieties nest around Kaikoura. Mollymawks, unlike albatrosses, do not generally dive for food (mainly squid). The ones we saw in Kaikoura were the White-cap/ Shy Mollymawk and Salvin's’ Mollymawk. Both only breed once every 2 years, on the east coast of NZ. The other one we spotted (from our boat) was the smallest Mollymawk, the Buller’s, distinctive for its dark grey rather than usual albatross white. We later spotted Black-browed Mollymawks, endemic in Kaikoura, on the wharf plunging for their food in the early evening.
1. Black brow 2.White cap. 3. Buller’s

Then the path went steeply uphill and over the hills. We walked for about an hour (halfway back to Kaikoura and almost to Whalers Bay) before we had to turn round. We wandered back to the car which gave us time to drive back and change for dinner. http://greendolphinkaikoura.com Dinner was lovely (a mix of breads and the local fish- a snapper) as we watched the sun set over the harbour. After dinner we went for a stroll to the end of the pier. Later we went back to look at the stars as I wanted to see the famous Southern Cross.
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Posted by PetersF 04:02 Archived in New Zealand Tagged the lake river bridge island south bay stream moon seal kaikoura store vineyards half colony blenheim ohau grassmere wharanui clarence kekerengu okiwi rakautara hapuku

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