Welcome to Banks Peninsula, home of The Hector’s dolphins and eco-tourism pioneers Black Cat Cruises

Monthly Archives: July 2011

EAST COAST OF THE SOUTH ISLAND SIGHTSEEING GUIDE

The East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is a place of contrast, beauty and history. Sightseeing options during your holidays here range from colonial towns and sleepy Maori fishing villages, to vibrant cities such as Dunedin and Christchurch. Things to do on the South Island East Coast include getting close to nature, wine tasting or getting a taste of history.

A journey down the East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island will probably start in the Marlborough region. Famous most notably for its Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a number of other grapes, this is a great place to choose for budding wine connoisseurs (or just budding wine tasters).

Within the Marlborough region are the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. The Sounds is an area of elaborate waterways and beautiful bays, all encompassed by lush green landscapes.

At the southern end of the Marlborough region is Kaikoura, which is known for its special blend of alpine and coastal scenery. Activities in Kaikoura include swimming with dolphins or whale watching tours.

The city of Christchurch is located about a third of the way along the East Coast heading south and has become known as the ‘garden city’, thanks to its dedication to beautiful gardens. The city is cosmopolitan and vibrant and things to do in Christchurch, apart from visiting award winning gardens, include attending one the city’s many festival and arts events.

Tourist attractions in Christchurch include the Neo Gothic Christchurch Cathedral, in the centre of the city. A climb up into its impressive spire offers a bird’s eye view of the city. Other places to visit in Christchurch include the Christchurch Gondola and the International Antarctic Centre.

If you are based in Christchurch but wish to explore the surrounding towns and villages, one great choice is the seaside town of Sumner. Sumner is actually a quiet coastal suburb of the city and is a popular with families, particularly those with an interest in surfing, boating and swimming.

Another place to see outside of Christchurch centre is the historic port of Lyttleton. Tourist attractions include Pilgrims Rock, where European settlers first entered the region.

Of all the places to visit along the East Coast, Akoara has become a must see town. This historic town has both British and French influence in both its architecture and its atmosphere. It is a great place to stroll around, filled with fine galleries and cafes, as well as offering swimming with dolphins, and nature cruises on the Akoara waters.

A small town rich in Maori heritage can be found further down the coast at Moeraki. Moeraki is a quiet fishing village known for the famous Moeraki Boulders. The boulders are one of the main tourist attractions in Moeraki, as these natural spherical formations are stunning and awe-inspiring.

Moeraki Boulders

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Named after the Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the city of Dunedin is rich in both history and culture. A trip to Dunedin should include simply strolling around a city thought to be one of the most well preserved Edwardian/Victorian places south of the equator. There are many fascinating places to see in Dunedin, including Larnach Castle and the steepest address in the world on Baldwin Street.

The tourist attractions in Dunedin and its surroundings pay homage to the spectacular wildlife found in the area. The wildlife includes rare penguins, Royal albatross and rare sea lions.

Found in the south eastern tip of the island is The Catlins, a National Park and an area of natural beauty that has remained fairly untouched by human interference. The area offers a varied choice of landscape, including rugged coastline and fossilized forest.

Popular activities in The Catlins include wildlife watching and bird spotting. The acres and acres of wilderness are great for trekking, camping and cycling.

The Caltins – Nugget Point Lighthouse

catlins-new-zealand

The East Coast has a bit of everything. Folks can immerse themselves in natural untouched habitats, or enjoy the elegant food and wine of this culturally rich and diverse section of the southern hemisphere.

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WHALE WATCHING IN AKAROA

With a coastline of approximately 15,000 kilometres New Zealanders have always had and continue to have a close affinity with the ocean. Working within a company whose occupation it is to take passengers out on harbour cruises and swimming with the dolphins we the staff at Black Cat Cruises are at the heart of it all and have been fortunate to have had special encounters with some of the less common, larger marine creatures.

The latest exciting visitors to the peninsula waters have been the migrating Humpback whales. During the summer months the Humpback whales are down in their feeding grounds in Antarctic waters but during the winter months they make their way to their tropical South Pacific breeding grounds. Passing by in New Zealand’s coastal waters provides opportunities for Kiwis and ocean-goers alike to have close encounters with these whales. Humpback whales are easily identified by their distinctive knobbly dorsal fin, large pectoral fins (their scientific name Megaptera novaeangliae means big wings of New England) and heads covered with bumps (tubercles). They can grow to lengths of 15 metres, weigh between 30 – 40 tonnes and are known for their ‘singing’ and playful acrobatics. They are a baleen whale feeding by surging through the water with an open mouth then filtering the krill and fish from the water through their baleen (long keratin plates hanging from the top of the mouth).

Humpbacks are a stocky whale, meaning they are generally slow moving which not only makes them perfect for whale watching but made them a popular target for whalers in New Zealand waters during the 1800 and 1900’s. The Humpbacks were such an easy target that the reduction in their population reached a point that there were no individuals seen passing through the Cook Strait; normally a regular path made annually on their way north. Whaling stopped in New Zealand in 1964 and since then their population has been increasing with as many as 43 individual Humpbacks seen during a four week survey in the Cook Strait in 2010 and a record number of 73 for the 2011 survey.

Whale Watching in Akaroa

Before the whalers and settlers came to New Zealand, Maori already had traditional, cultural and spiritual connections to whales of all kinds, including the Humpback. To some iwi or tribes whales were considered kaitiaki, guardians, guiding their ancestor’s canoes safely across the oceans to New Zealand. But they were also a source of food and materials used for creating jewellery or utensils, often making use of the resource when they became stranded on nearby beaches. Because of these connections the whales are often found in their myths, legends, carvings and songs.

These connections with the whales still hold true today and there are very few moments that can compare with being gently approached by a wild, 15 metre long whale and being so close that you feel the droplets of spray move across your skin and your hair being tussled by its breath as the whale exhales. There is nothing more pleasurable than introducing visitors to New Zealand and locals alike to our wildlife, each experience unique and special. So far this winter season we have been fortunate enough to have spent 5 days with different pods of whales varying from solitary individuals up to pods numbering 4. Behaviour differed amongst the pods with some of them steadily travelling north set on the warmer waters, while one curious individual spent it’s time visibly relaxed swimming on it’s back, waving it’s fins and even entering the harbour where it repeatedly approached our harbour cruise boat, Black Cat, in Akaroa, seemingly just as curious about the boat as the harbour cruise passengers were about it.

With the numbers of Humpback whales increasing in our waters we look forward to our future experiences with these seasonal visitors and are elated at the thought that this time next year, along with our passengers, we get to do it all again!