Monday, March 14, 2011

Eco-tour to the Karitane Peninsula

And so begins the never-ending search for penguins.  Prompted by a friend, I signed up for the Karitane Eco-Tour offered through our recreation center, the Unipol.  The pamphlet talked of plenty of wildlife viewing, including sea birds, seals, and penguins.  It even mentioned an opportunity for swimming with dolphins - I was so in.  Unfortunately, our tour take place this past Saturday, just a day after the disastrous earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan.  While our trip continued as planned, any hopes of swimming or spending time at the beaches were dashed.  (A small price to pay in face of such a large catastrophe.)  Add in the awful rainy weather we had, and much of our wildlife-viewing was compromised as well.  Despite these factors (and the wooziness caused by my dramamine), we were all able to still have a great time and see some awesome sights.

We arrived to the dock shortly before 9 am and boarded the Caprice, a well-equipped catamaran.  Allan, our tour guide, gave us some quick safety instructions (complete with sarcastic asides), and then we were on our way!

[Our boat, which had seats in the cabin, outside under the awning, on the front deck AND even hammock-like nets that hung from the front of the boat just a few feet above the water.  Very nice - even on such a cold, wet day.]

Once we made our way out to the deeper part of the harbor, Allan and his crew pulled out a few fishing poles and helped us each take a turn at some ‘trolling.’  Almost all of us got to reel in large barracudas, anywhere between two and three feet in length.  Just holding the big pole against the current caused by the moving boat was enough for me - reeling in the feisty fish was quite the workout.  We kept most of our catch, both for our lunch AND the albatross’s.

[Photo by Silje M.]

[Not entirely sure what to do with such a big, unhappy fish... Photo by Silje M.]

[At least one of us is smiling... Photo by Silje M.]

We made our way along the coastline, with the occasional shout of ‘little blue penguin ahead!,’ which frustratingly I never got to see.  I maybe caught the head of one sticking out of the water as it watched us go by, but nothing close enough for a picture (or for it to count as a checkmark on my list).  Fortunately, it was not long until we found some adorable fur seals sunbathing on long-ago hardened lava flows. We saw a few gliding through the water, but most were lazying around on the warm rock, a couple making the effort to pose pretty for the cameras...

[They made some noises, too, but it was hard to hear them over the shrill ‘AWWWWWW’s that were impossible to control...]

Finally, we made our way out to sea to try our luck at albatross-baiting.  After about 30 minutes or so, we began to lose hope... and then out of nowhere, a giant white bird came swooping in to grab a piece of fish Allan had just thrown into the water.  Before long, a dozen or so albatrosses (plus many other much smaller birds) were partaking in our barracuda feast.  The albatross is so unreal - it looked more like a metal statue than a living animal.  Their heads alone were so weird, almost like they were wearing a permanent warrior’s mask.

[The White-Capped Albatross.  They can have wingspans of up to 8 ft!  They dwarfed the seagulls and mutton-birds that were swimming around them.  And yet these guys even looked small compared to the one Royal Albatross who showed up just as we were leaving.  They can have wingspans that reach 10 ft - we’re talking big, BIG birds.]

[White-capped Albatross as it swooped in for some food.  They would casually wait, floating calmly in the water behind the boat, but as soon as the fish pieces hit the water, the would run (yes, RUN) across the surface of the water and dive under completely to grab their snack.  If it could escape its peers long enough after emerging from the water, it would throw its head back and swallow the long piece of meat whole.  Apparently they can also do this with full-size barracuda skeletons - but none of them were quite that hungry that day.]

[Allan as he prepared more slices of fish under the careful supervision of the birds]

[They made the most awful noises while fighting over the food - you’ll have to YouTube it]

[Yellow-nosed Albatross.  These guys showed up a little bit later and were a little bit smaller - but that didn’t keep them from getting their fair share.  These can reach a wingspan of a little over 6 ft.]

Next stop: Allan’s crab cages.  Not only were we having fresh barracuda for lunch, but some Paddle Crab, too!

[Allan as he dragged the heavy crab cage onto the back of the boat]

[A cage full of Paddle Crabs!  Allan quickly pulled out the few large ones and let the little ones go back out to sea...]

[A crab that was jokingly tossed into our pile of warm blankets]

As we slowly made our way back to the harbor, Allan left the steering to his crew and made himself comfortable in his compact kitchen.  Using crackers and salt, he fried our barracuda and steamed our crabs.  Squeeze a little bit of lemon on top, and both were fall-apart-in-your-mouth delicious.  You just had to keep an eye out for the thin barracuda bones hiding in the hunks of meat.  I was offered help with my crab claws, but when I proudly explained that my mother had taught me how to properly pick apart a crab, I was met with blank stares.  I guess ‘Maryland’ doesn’t mean a whole lot to a bunch of New Zealanders and Europeans.  But no worries!  We all sighed with content as we enjoyed probably the freshest seafood we had ever eaten.  Then we all snuggled into our fuzzy blankets and watched the scenery roll by...

[A bird colony along a rock-face...]

[... and closer up.]

[Sea caves]

[Dreary day...]

[The fog was sooo low - the smaller hills were even disappearing]

And then we were back!  We said our thank you’s and made our way back to the Unipol.  Despite the things we missed out on and the yucky weather, it was still a wonderful trip.  I’m so lucky that the University offers so many things for students to do - and at reasonable prices, too.  The next adventure - European cooking classes!


  1. Ha! It was totally worth the trip to see you fishing and knowing that you ate your catch! Excellent! Grandpa will be so proud! As to the wildlife you did see, couldn't help but have the voices of Finding Nemo characters running through my head ("mine, mine, mine" and "hey, hey, hey"). Their accent was perfect, too! : ) As for the awwwdorable seals, how precious was that? Cye is here now doing his best seal impression, stretched across the couch like it is lava rock ~ he's pretty good at it. He sends his love, as do all of us. I am confident that penguins will be seen and enjoyed ~ they are just keeping us in suspense a bit longer. Until then, looking forward to seeing the foods you have been preparing, to hearing about indigenous fares, and seeing your smiling face in the pictures. Loving you, Mom

  2. I showed your photos to my students and the paras in my classroom using the SmartBoard the other day. Enjoyed by all. The Albatross remind me of a sort of Sci-Fi Comedy Trojan Horse, I half expected a bunch of tricksters to emerge from its flip-top head. Wild looking. I hope the weather was better for this weekends trip.