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10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT NEW ZEALAND’S ONLY NATIVE DOLPHIN

Hector’s Dolphins, (or Cephalorhynchus Hectori , for those of you with an affinity for Latin) are the friendly creatures that grace the waters near New Zealand shores. Native to Aotearoa, and commonly found along the coast of Banks Peninsula, these dolphins have sparked excitement in local scientists for the past 30 or so years, and now we know more about them than ever. Here are ten things about Hector’s Dolphins you may not have known:

10. Under the Radar

The way Hector’s Dolphins communicate is often inaudible to the human ear. Except for the occasional squeal or cry, their sounds just don’t register to us. They communicate through short, high frequency clicks which last about 1/7000th of a second and are usually at about 120 kHz – 6 times higher than the human ear can hear. These are emitted as pulses in the water, and they become more frequent when they get closer to a target.

9. Lone Wolves Making Packs

From research, it seems that although Hector’s Dolphins are inclined to stick together in groups, they don’t really have strong family ties or set packs that they are always associated with. Although mothers stick with their children to show them the ropes as they grow up, and the occasional dolphin has a ‘best friend’ or two, relationships between males and females are far from monogamous and researchers usually find that the same dolphins are not often seen together.


8. Age-Telling Teeth

We now know that Hector’s Dolphins on average live into their early twenties. How? Their teeth. When they are born, they start out with hollow cone-like teeth and every year, two more layers will grow up into them to fill out the cone – one in summer, and one in winter. Scientists count the layers, like rings on a tree, to find the age of a dolphin.

7. Massive brains

Hector’s Dolphins have one of the largest brain-to-body weight ratios in the animal kingdom, and the largest amongst dolphins. With 1.7% of their body weight residing in their brain, it’s really no wonder they have a reputation for being intelligent. The average human ratio is 1.9%, which doesn’t seem to be particularly far ahead. And not only are they catching up to us in size, but in the way we value our smarts too; the areas of the dolphin brain associated with reason and creativity are surprisingly well developed.

6. Dolphins just play for fun

Unlike many creatures in the animal kingdom that learn to fight or hunt through play amongst their group, Hector’s Dolphins just play for the fun of it. They’re really friendly around humans, and you’ll often see them surfing in the wake of a passing boat, or tossing around a twig, some seaweed, or leaves near the surface of the water. When they’re enjoying themselves, they blow bubbles under the water to show their excitement. Many scientists believe that the fact that they seem to play just for the pleasure of it is a sign of their intelligence.

5. Punks and Sharkbait

Since New Zealand scientists started studying Hector’s Dolphins in the ‘80s, they’ve gotten to know quite a few characters. Identifying features and repeat visits mean that they’re quite familiar with dolphins like Biggus Nickus, whose name was inspired by the nick in his dorsal fin (and the Monty Python film, Life of Brian). Others include Punk, who had a calf every two years from 2000-2008, and Sharkbait, who researchers met when he had a fresh wound on his back from an attack.

4. No Tagging

In 2004, the Department of Conservation tagged three Hector’s Dolphins in the Banks Peninsula area. This was met with much outrage from scientists, conservationalists, and dolphin enthusiasts alike. As Hector’s Dolphins are so friendly and so willing to come up to researchers time and time again, key scientists, Professors Slooten and Dawson want to keep them free from tags. They believe that it is unethical to tag animals if it means putting them through stress for research that can be done through other means. Tagging can also change the behaviour of an animal due to human intervention, which would skew observational findings. And of course, scientists have the ability to monitor the dolphins through the photographic records they keep, so they can learn about Hector’s Dolphins without causing them unnecessary harm. Therefore the scientists like to keep a tag-free policy when it comes to Hector’s Dolphins.

3. A Different Dorsal

It’s easy to tell the difference between your standard dolphins from other waters and New Zealand’s own Hector’s Dolphin. Aside from the fact that Hector’s Dolphins are predominantly grey and quite small in comparison to their international counterparts, they have a very rounded dorsal fin. Other species you may spot in New Zealand waters that aren’t natives will have a sickle or triangular shaped fin, meaning it’s pretty easy for a Hector’s Dolphin to stand out from the crowd. In fact, they are sometimes known as the ‘Mickey Mouse Dolphin’ – it’s easy to see why.

2. Hungry Dolphins

Being warm-blooded creatures in a very cool environment, it’s important that dolphins eat as much as they can to keep their energy levels up with the activity they do. A typical male Hector’s Dolphin will eat about 11% of his body weight in fish each day as long as he can get hold of it. That’s the equivalent of an average adult male eating 37 Big Macs in one day!

1. Hector’s Dolphins are tiny

Relative to the size of other sea dwelling mammals, the native New Zealand dolphin is quite small. Going by length, Hector’s Dolphins are the smallest in the world – the average Hector’s Dolphin is the size of a five year old child, whereas the average Bottlenose is the length of a small family car! However, there’s a little competition for the title, because by weight, the Franciscana dolphin of South America is ten kilograms lighter than a fully grown Hector’s Dolphin.

BANKS PENINSULA CRUISING

Cyclists high on the Summit Road above Akaroa Harbour during the iconic race, Le Race. Photo credit; Tailwind Events

Banks Peninsula offers a huge variety of options to cruise on the bike, both for road and mountain biking. The area starting life as a volcanic island and the Peninsula’s two major volcanos’ have now sunk 2500 meters over a very long period of time, providing the wonderful harbours of Akaroa and Lyttelton.

Over time alluvium from the Southern Alps extended from the mainland shoreline to link up with the once isolated volcanoes, providing the flat areas that surround the peninsula.

There are numerous ways of attacking climbs throughout Banks Peninsula, but we’d thought we look at a unique ride that starts in Christchurch and finishes in Akaroa with a boat trip thrown in along the way.

Heading along Colombo Street towards the Port Hills of Banks Peninsula you eventually arrive at the bottom of Dyers Pass, just under the first two kilometres of this portion of the road up Dyers Pass is filled with thousands of very keen cycling fans in early January each year for the Calder Stewart New Zealand elite cycling champs. In late March each year the climb all the way to the top sorts things out early for the iconic 100 kilometre Christchurch to Akaroa Le Race cycle race, being held this year on the 23rd of March.

The gradient is quite steep in places but after you past the Cup and Emperor’s New Clothes cafes and the iconic Sign of the Tahake it flattens out into a nice steady climb to about 300 metres above sea level at the Sign of the Kiwi which provides magnificent views across Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps and to the south across Lyttelton Harbour.

From here it’s downhill towards Governors Bay and then a left turn towards Lyttelton. This is really nice rolling terrain which is quite quiet as the road beyond Lyttelton has been closed since the earthquakes so much of the traffic uses the Lyttelton tunnel rather than this piece of road.

Looking out across the harbour there are great views of Quail Island, named after the now extinct native Quail (koreke) by Captain William Mein Smith. The island has a fascinating history; it was originally used as a quarantine station and as a small leprosy colony by the early European settlers.

From 1934 till 1975 the Island was leased out for farming and was then converted to a recreational reserve. Today the focus is on restoring native vegetation and the island is home to loads of native birds and the rare white flippered little blue penguins.

Recently the Kiwi Ranger programme started up on the island, a fun and interactive programme initiated by the Department of Conservation (DOC) that incorporates various sites, such as national parks, ecosanctuaries, heritage centres and reserves across the country. Black Cat Cruises run trips to the island and it’s a good chance to take a lunch and swimming togs for a great family day out.

Once into Lyttelton it’s down to the harbour and jumping on board (with your bike) Black Cat Cruise’s Diamond Harbour Ferry. Legend has it that Diamond Harbour got its name because one of the early settlers observed the sun reflecting on the water and thought it looked like a thousand shining diamonds. There’s no doubt that Diamond Harbour remains one of the sunniest and unspoilt destinations on Banks Peninsula and the ferry ride only takes five minutes across the harbour.

From Diamond Harbour, you ride east along some lovely rolling terrain until you descend into Purau and its very nice bay. Then it’s all uphill for a while with a long climb up the Purau Port Levy Road. Once at the top it’s a fast descent down into Port Levy – watch for the tight hairpin halfway down – and onto a gravel section made ‘infamous’ in the 90s by legendary road cyclist Brian Fowler who used to come the other way on long training rides during his tour winning days in the Tour of Southland.

It’s mostly hard packed gravel and mud which is just as well as it’s a steep five kilometre climb up to over 600 metres up Wild Cattle Hill. After riding through the barren hills scattered with sheep and some trees there is another descent of five kilometres and it’s finally back onto sealed road again at Pigeon Bay.

Pigeon Bay is usually a magnificent turquoise colour and a good spot for stopping to take in the views and get some food and drinks on board before another tough climb up the Pigeon Bay Road for six kilometres to the rim of the Akaroa crater and the Summit Road again.

Once again there are magnificent views, again in most directions; down into Duvauchelle Bay, back into Pigeon Bay and up Akaroa Harbour. Turning left and heading south along the Summit Road you are once again on the final quarter of the route used for Le Race, including a climb up to 700 metres and a head rush of a downhill down Long Bay Road into Akaroa, the South Island’s oldest colonial town and New Zealand’s sole French Settlement.

First stop is a good local cafe for food and coffee, then a chance to kick back and reflect on an awesome day out on the bike. While in Akaroa it would be a shame not to stay and check out the harbour the following day. Black Cat have been cruising the waters of Banks Peninsula for more than 26 years and is a must see Akaroa activity so finding their office in the Main Street or on the wharf is a good idea.

They know all there is to know about Akaroa Harbour and the diversity of marine wildlife, birdlife and its volcanic origins. You can swim with hector’s dolphins year round, or do an Akaroa Harbour Nature cruise. Black Cat Cruises helps create some of the most memorable experiences to be had on the water anywhere on New Zealand’s Canterbury coastline, and great way to round off two fantastic days on Bank Peninsula. If you are super keen you can always ride back to Christchurch via Hill Top and Little River on the main Christchurch to Akaroa Highway – its only another 85 kilometres.

CRUISE SHIPS IN AKAROA 2012/13

Cruise ships in Akaroa

Just a few years ago it would be hard to imagine a summer where 86 cruise ships would visit Akaroa Harbour. Akaroa always had a handful of small ships anchor in the bay and shuttle customers into the township.

The big quake of February 2011 was centred not too far from Lyttelton port and it’s remarkable the port has stayed open for its core shipping business, but the Cruise ships have been forced elsewhere so step up Akaroa!

Lyttelton will probably again be Canterbury’s main port of call for Cruise ships one day, but the port has already announced they can’t welcome ships in 2013/14 and its hoped that even when the port reopens that some ships will retain Akaroa as a Canterbury stopover.

One major difference between the two ports is that in Akaroa there is no berthing facility and ships need to tender customers to shore 100 at a time so logistically it’s a bit harder for the ships themselves.

Its estimated Canterbury will receive $35M in direct spend and that it will support 655 jobs. Not bad when you consider the total population of Akaroa is only 800, however many of the cruise ship passengers will find their way to Christchurch and other parts of the region.

Depending on which cruise ship company you talk to Akaroa is either the most popular or 2nd most popular port of call in New Zealand according to passenger research. Customers rate the little town for its atmosphere and beauty and is quite different from the other city ports such as Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland.

Many of the cruise ship passengers are from Australia; in fact over half of the 200,000 passengers in 2012/13 are expected to be Australian, followed by Americans, British and Europeans.

So what is there to do in Akaroa? According to one of the big shore excursion companies this is what cruise ship customers are doing with their day in Akaroa.

 

    1. Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruises (Black Cat Cruises)

 

    1. Swimming with Dolphins (Black Cat Cruises)

 

    1. Tranz Alpine train journey

 

    1. Christchurch on your own

 

    1. Banks Peninsula and city drive

 

    1. Antarctic Centre and city drive

 

    1. Walking tour of Akaroa

 

    1. Jet Boat of Waimakariri River

 

    1. High country tours and Lord of the Rings

 

    1. Paua Bay Farm tour

 

And of course over and above the excursions bought on the ship many cruise ship passengers take the time to explore beautiful Akaroa including walking the township, discovering the many shops, cafes and signs of its fascinating past.

It is a huge benefit for Akaroa to have the cruise ships visit the town. Over half of the town’s population are employed in the tourism sector and it’s the lifeblood of the local economy. With the downstream impacts of the Feb 2011 quakes still being felt in Akaroa it’s provided a silver lining to a dark cloud. Previously many visitors to Akaroa would spend the night in Christchurch and with many hotels out of action for some years yet then that market base has reduced.

The other huge benefit is that many cruise ship customers are talking about Akaroa with their friends, they blog, take photos and provide massive profile for the township which otherwise would not be gained. And finally many cruise ship passengers will come back again as self-drive tourists and we hope will once again visit Akaroa on a land based tour around the South Island probably staying longer and fully immersing themselves in the Akaroa experience.

Akaroa was and always will be a great place for visitors. The community has been hard hit by the loss of tourism business from Christchurch because of the quakes. However it has geared itself up to welcome cruise ship passengers.

QUAIL ISLAND AND THE NEW KIWI RANGER PROGRAM

on the 9th of December 2012 a new Kiwi Ranger program will be launched on Quail Island.  Quail Island is a very special place just 15 minutes by ferry from Lyttelton Harbour which is just a 15 minute drive from central Christchurch.

here is a quick video showing highlights of the island and the program which is for all ages to enjoy:     Quail Island and the Kiwi Ranger program

Research shows that childhood experiences with nature plays a critical role in determining life attitudes, knowledge and behaviors towards the environment.  Kiwi Ranger is affordable fun for families – free in most places, or a gold coin donation in others.
Kiwi Ranger is a great way for families to explore new places together and learn something as well as having heaps of fun and earning a cool badge!

Kiwi Ranger guides families to make the most of their visit, by taking it beyond a mere walk in the park, to an experience worth remembering and treasuring.

It aims to encourage children to explore and experience the natural local environment, to develop a sense of wonder and sense of place, alongside their families.

In a world that is becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, we want to help families to fall in love with our natural world again.

By developing a strong network of Kiwi Ranger places, we hope to encourage families to build on their experiences, and go to more places, try new things, collect a new badge!

Kiwi Ranger is a fun, interactive programme for kids of all ages – from 3 to 103!
The programme started in the South Island but is expanding nationally from early next year.
Each site has its own booklet full of fun activities and walks to do. Completing the activities earns you a badge – unique to each location – and the title of Kiwi Ranger.

Kiwi Ranger is currently run from six national parks; Paparoa, Westland, Nelson Lakes, Mt Aspiring, Arthur’s Pass and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, as well as Denniston Historic Reserve and Orokanui Ecosanctuary near Dunedin. Two new sites – Totaranui Great Walk Campsite and Otamahua/Quail Island near Christchurch – are being launched this December.

Check out the Kiwi Ranger website to find out about other Kiwi Ranger locations, where to pick up your booklets and to print out some other activities at www.kiwiranger.org.nz

Your adventure will get you exploring the island, reflect on a living a lonely island life with no TV or Xbox, imagine a living vessel at the ship’s graveyard, compete in the race to the pole, explore the traditional values of plants to providing nature’s services or be inspired to become a ‘word witch’ in the place that Margaret Mahy wrote.

Ōtamahua / Quail Island Kiwi Ranger was developed by DOC and Shades of Green, Rapaki Runanga, the Otamahua/Quail Island Restoration Trust and Black Cat Cruises.

THE BREEZE 63

The weather may feel a bit wintery but we’ve taken the last few months to get ourselves ready for the upcoming season. After all, spring is just around the corner. Below are announcements of new projects coming this season and some of the highlights of the winter. Thanks for reading.

Cheers Paul


 

Major Akaroa renovations

Over the winter we have completely stripped and upgraded our two Akaroa shops. There is a whole new feel and look to both the ticketing and the retail presence. We’d love to hear your feedback next time you are in Akaroa. Amongst other things you will see a new layout, new colours, big TV screens, new retail displays and some new signage.

Free dolphins to customers

10,000 fridge magnets are to be given away this season! We have lots of these cute little guys to give away to our customers on Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruises. If you can’t wait to see them just reply to this email and we will give the first 50 customers a free one whether you are planning to cruise with us or not.


 

Jetpack flyer

Check out this amazing photo taken in Akaroa recently. Developed in the USA this jet pack involves strapping a giant water hose onto your back and flying around the harbour. Not for the faint hearted!


 

Photo sharing competition

We’ve got a great new promotion going which is aimed at getting our customers to share their top pictures on our website. Every month the photo with the most votes will win the money back they paid for their cruise. Check out the first months pictures here.


 

Top t shirts

Summer is not far away! And we have got some great t-shirt designs lined up for our new shops this year. These t-shirts were voted best by our Facebook fans. They will be selling for about $30. Grab yourself a great look this summer.

 


 

Massive cruise giveaway

We have a big giveaway planned for The Press for September 28 to October 8. We are giving away 20 family passes on both Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruises and Quail Island Adventures. The only catch is you have to be a Press subscriber!


 

Brochures relaunched

Keep an eye out for our brand new brochures. Yeah we know its not that exciting but it’s been about 6 years since we had a complete change of brochure and we know many people use them to decide what to do on holiday.


 

Dolphin protection

A review of the Hector’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan is underway a year earlier than planned. Thanks to Minister David Carter for changing this and we are hoping for more set net bans around Banks Peninsula as we move forward.


 

Mobile website

We’ve gone mobile! Now our website is easily accessed by any smartphone and bookings can also be made on smartphones with our new reservation system.


 

Lyttelton to Akaroa cruise

Father’s Day is set to be a cracker at Black Cat with a special Lyttelton to Akaroa cruise. We only do one of these each year where we cruise around the Peninsula and coach people back to Lyttelton at the end of the day.


 

Xmas time

If you want a unique and special venue for your end of year function then we have a great idea. Charter the Canterbury Cat on Lyttelton Harbour.

Dinner cruise functions are $75 per person including 3 hour cruise and 2 course meal and we will throw in a free drink if you talk to Ali in the next week.

Hurry because some of the best dates are already gone. Email Alison@blackcat.co.nz for more details.


 

Great Feedback

“Best dolphin watch trip in New Zealand”
If you are going to do a dolphin watching trip in New Zealand then this is the one to do. I have done different ones over the South Island including one other Hector’s dolphin watch trip (Akaroa is not the only place to find them at a 98% encounter rate). This trip stands out as the wildlife is exceptional but the history of the area; volcanic activity etc. makes the scenery and history much more interesting. The skipper and mate will cater for everyone’s needs and the boat is very modern and perfectly designed for the cruise. The dolphin guarantee makes it more worthwhile so will definitely be back.

CHRISTMAS PARTY VENUES & IDEAS IN CHRISTCHURCH

Here is a list of interesting things to do in Christchurch if you are planning and organising a staff or office Christmas Party this year.  If you think you have an idea to add to this list please add them in the comments below.

PARTY BOAT CRUISE

Canterbury Cat

Just 15 minutes from Christchurch lies Lyttelton harbour.  Brush away those cobwebs, get outdoors in the fresh sea breeze, watch the sun set while sipping a glass of your favourite brew.  Dinner cruises are very popular for groups of over 30 people and need to be booked in early to early ensure your favourite date. The perfect solution for that end of year office party.

Lyttelton Harbour at sunset

The Black Cat Cruises catamaran comfortably holds up to 80 people.  Lyttelton Harbour provides many sheltered bays and inlets to ensure a smooth calm environment and the natural beauty of Banks Peninsula guarantees an unforgetable event. A 2 course spit roast dinner on board is the most popular choice for groups and we are fully licenced.

A PRIVATE CHOCOLATE EVENT!

Hot Chocolate

SHE CHOCOLAT is a restaurant and chocolatier situated in Governors Bay with fabulous views of the harbour. private chocolate event customised just for you and the team – yum!

Combines chocolate, food, wine, chocolate play and other surprises into one event.  Fun informative and definitely memorable, be entertained by Irishman-Declan, a qualified corporate trainer as well as being  passionate about chocolate of course! They can cater for groups of between 8-50 people.  Early bookings are essential especially if you have a large group.

Adrenalin Forest

THE ADRENALIN FOREST

How far will you go?! Located near Spencer Park the Adrenalin Forest offers the most amazing team building “out of your comfort zone” activity available.  The activity is a series of obstacles, flying foxes and tarzan jumps set in the forest.  Test your balance, agility and fight gravity as you make your way around the course.  Fun and challenging at the same time.  They can cater for groups up to 100 people at a time.  A BBQ is available on site and flag races can be arranged to add to the competition!! Night time options are available with head lamps, adds to the excitement and adrenalin!

Other options include:-

Enthuse is a media and events business and can help you create a memorable Christmas Party or event from planning to theming and providing the actual entertainment.

Mobile laser Skirmish A new leisure and recreational activity that comes to your venue

feel free to add more information in the comments section.

THE BREEZE 62

We are starting to head into our traditional off season but we’ll be out on the harbours every day. Below are some highlights from the season just completed including some of our best photos, a unique marriage proposal and our on going efforts to protect Hector’s dolphins. Thanks for reading.

Cheers Paul


 

Photo of the season

Every day we have cameras out on our swim boats capturing a range of amazing photos and here is a great shot which may very well be the best photo of the season. We took this recently on a late autumn evening, glassy water, soft light and a perfect compilation of swimmer and dolphin….awesome!


 

Will you?

Sisi He from Auckland got a little more than she bargained for on a Swimming with the Dolphins trip with Black Cat Cruises in Akaroa this week. He, from the inbound travel agency General Travel, said yes to a wedding proposal from her partner while still in her wetsuit having just completed a memorable swim with the Hector’s dolphins. It was a special moment for the couple and the crew and a first for Black Cat Cruises.


 

Easter Egg Hunt

2000 Easter eggs were snapped up by over 600 passengers on Quail Island over Easter Weekend. Hunters were given a map and rough directions and the hunt was on. Next Easter we plan on offering even more trips and more options because this year was a sell-out. Some of the eggs not claimed were donated to local children’s home.


 

Cruise Ships will be back next season

The worlds cruise liners have once again decided Akaroa will be their port of call for Canterbury in the 2012/13 season. This was after an announcement that Lyttelton’s cruise ship berth won’t be fixed in time. Cruise ship passenger research from last season rated Akaroa as either the top or second most favourite port call in New Zealand which is high praise. Across the next 12 months we are expecting around 90 cruise ships to call into Akaroa.


 

MD lobbies DOC for protection

Black Cat Cruises Managing Director, Paul Bingham met with Conservation Minister, Kate Wilkinson, and DOC Director General, Al Morrison to ask for more protection for Hector’s dolphins around Banks Peninsula. I think National could gain an easy win by extending the set net bans in the sanctuary without impacting on any commercial fishermen. The government continues to take political heat on the Maui dolphin’s situation in the North Island we want to ensure that our Hector’s are not forgotten.


 

Customers rate us!

Every year we ask our customers to rate our performance across a number of areas and below are the results from this year. As well as this research we use direct feedback and from on-line review sites to evaluate where we can improve.

TOURISM OPERATOR TALKS TO DOLPHINS

Dolphi Chat BCC2 April 12 Amazing technology previously only available in the scientific community that allows humans to talk to dolphins is being launched by leading New Zealand tourism operator Black Cat Cruises.

New analysis of results from a 1970s experiment found that Dolphins ‘talk’ to each other using the same process to make their high-pitched sounds as humans. After more than a decade of experimentation and testing by marine scientists in the United States the technology is being launched commercially for the first time anywhere in the world by Black Cat Cruises in Akaroa.  watch the video

Black Cat Cruises Managing Director Paul Bingham said the findings in the 1970’s showed that dolphins don’t actually whistle as has been long thought, but instead rely on vibrations of tissues in their nasal cavities that are the same as our vocal cords.

“Once we got wind of the technology and looked at it in more detail we realised how exciting it was and how much it would add to our cruises,” he said.

“It took quite some time to get it to a stage where it was a viable tourism product for us, and now can’t wait to share it with our dolphin swimming and cruise passengers. It really is incredible and will set our cruises apart from any marine experience anywhere in the world.”

The technology is being called Dolphi Chat and will be available as part of Black Cat Cruise’s normal trips in Akaroa. Cruise prices remain the same and Bingham said Black Cat Cruises had strong expressions of interest from several overseas marine tourism operators to purchase Dolphi Chat.

“We will see how well it goes here first but there is the potential to sell the technology to other tourism operators overseas,” he said.