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Category Archives: Akaroa New Zealand

BLACK CAT SPONSOR INTERNATIONAL MARINE MAMMAL CONFERENCE

Our work and efforts to sustain and preserve New Zealand’s delicate marine wildlife extends beyond both Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula. As one of New Zealand’s leading eco-tourism operators we are extremely proud to sponsor the 20th International Biennial Marine Mammal Conference, being held in Dunedin this year.

We hereby extend to you, by way of our blog, an invitation to come along to this major international conference. Knowledge is power and what better way to be inspired and educated than by the world’s leading professionals. Over the next three weeks the Black Cat blog will be publishing guest blog posts from the conference so watch this space.

Liz Slooten & a Hector’s dolphin

liz slooten hector's dolphin akaroa

Dr Liz Slooten, Chair of the Conference Organising Committee, Otago University has kindly written us an overview of what’s in store and how you can get involved…..

Organising an international conference for more than 1200 Marine Mammal scientists is an intimidating thing. But, what an opportunity to show off our marvelous dolphins, whales, seals and sealions!

The conference theme is Marine Mammal Conservation: Science making a difference.

The conference is five days long, from 9-13 December. It starts with a Plenary Day, with everyone together in the Dunedin Town Hall (one of the few places in Dunedin that will hold 1200 people).

Here, nine international experts will give talks about science-based solutions to global marine mammal conservation problems. The speakers will be emphasising local examples, including Hector’s dolphins,

The worlds most endangered dolphin

Swim with dolphins akaroa new zealand

New Zealand sealions and Australian sealions. To help us do a better job of getting science translated into conservation action, we have ex-Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson to give us the low-down on the interactions between scientists and politicians.

For the next four days, there will be four conference talks on at any one time, with the audience split over four large lecture theatres on Otago University’s Campus. About 1200 people will be giving and attending talks on almost every aspect of marine mammal science, from almost every corner of the globe.

There will also be two poster evenings, on Tuesday and Thursday night. We have 400 posters in total, with half displayed on the Tuesday and half on Thurday night. This also provides an excellent opportunity for wine and cheese, a bit of mingling, talking and brainstorming about all sorts of issues. This sort of social event is where the real business of the conference is conducted.

”You are warmly invited to come to the conference.”

It is open to the public. All you have to do is come to the Registration Desk in the Link Building at Otago University and sign up. The Link Building is on the corner of Cumberland and Albany Streets.

See: www.marinemammalscience.org For more information about the conference (including registration fees)

5 EASY STEPS TO TAKING A GREAT PHOTO…

Point and shoot – how hard can it be? Despite the seemingly idiot-proof design of the modern camera these days, it can be harder than it looks. That blurry, dark, shot of half your thumb, or the washed out, blindingly bright one of what you thought was the sunset are endless sources of frustration for the amateur photographer and tourist alike. New Zealand is internationally famous for it’s picturesque landscapes. Akaroa and Banks Peninsula deliver many picture perfect locations so it’s a must visit destination for some of the best places to photograph in New Zealand. It’s also no secret that when it comes to landscape photography, getting your lens to reflect the beauty your eyes can see is quite the challenge.

‘Akaroa foggy morning’ Black Cat photo competition 2013

photo competition akaroa

Of course that’s not the story for everyone. The winners of our recent photography competitions know a thing or two about taking a pretty picture, and you can see the artworks their lenses have captured further down our blog. But for those of you who are aspiring to have a shot at next year’s prizes, here are a few tips on how to capture that perfect photo of Banks Peninsula’s breathtaking scenery.

Now, how complicated this gets depends on what kind of camera you’re using. If you’ve got the simple, good ol’ point and shoot, and it’s been bought in the past few years, chances are you’ll have a setting on there specifically designed to make taking a landscape shot a breeze. In this case, all you’ve got to do is make sure you have a steady hand – or even better yet, a tripod – make sure the shot is in focus, and then take the snap.

These days the cameras on mobile phones are producing some fantastic images, and with so many high quality filter apps everyone can be the next budding National Geographic photographer! Check out some awesome shots on Instagram by Jim Richardson. A National Geographicphotographer who has been shooting around the globe with his i-phone.

But if you’ve mastered that aspect of the basics, going a little further with fairly inexpensive equipment isn’t as hard as it seems. If your camera has a manual or custom settings option, there are several things you want to think about before making that shutter click.

Step 1

 

Framing a picture on an Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise

Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise Black Cat

Firstly, arrange your frame. It’s important to scope out the composition and of what you want to capture before you start clicking. Use the rule of thirds as a general guideline for finding ways to balance out your shot, and play with the zoom to focus in on the best parts of the scene in front of you.

Step 2

Next, you’ll want to consider the lighting of the shot. How does it look to your eye? How does it look through the camera? Depending on the feel you want to give to an image, adjust the brightness and contrast using your camera’s settings to subdue colours or make them pop. Although these can be adjusted in post-production software, getting the shot as close to how you want it to look as possible at the scene makes life a lot easier in the editing phase. Try playing with the different tones and pick your favourite later on.

Step 3

 

Sunrise in Lyttelton Harbour by Carolyn Nicholl

things to do in christchurch lyttelton harbour

Also because of the high contrast and brightness while the sun is high in the sky, many photographers recommend picking your times for landscape shots carefully. If the sun is in danger of overexposing your pics, go for an early morning or late afternoon expedition – you’ll get some amazing hues at these times of the day too. Sometimes it’s worth the 5am wake up call for a beautiful sunrise.

Black Cat Dolphin Swimmer Surprise Shot

Black Cat Dolphin Swimmer Surprise Shot

Step 4

When it comes to action shots, especially on the water, you’ll want to have your camera’s shutter up to speed. If you have a sports mode setting, or the ability to set the shutter speed really high, this will assist in getting clearer, crisper shots of moving subjects. It’s best to go for these when there is ample natural lighting, or a scene where your flash will work, as because the shutter is so fast, there isn’t much time to let a lot of light into the lens. If you get your timing and lighting right, capturing that mid-air dolphin shot shouldn’t be too strenuous.

Step 5

It’s also important that you try your best to ensure the shot is in focus before you press that button. There’s nothing worse than going back through a batch of what would be beautiful shots just to find that something’s out of focus. Using the auto-focus setting is a great way to see that the focal point of your image is in fact just that, but if you’re more confident with your eye, play with the manual focus to blur out the background or foreground, and get a little more creative with your camera.

But finally, what matters most of all is that you get out there and give it a go. The more shots you take, the more comfortable you’ll become behind the lens, and the easier it’ll be to figure out what works, and what doesn’t. There’s plenty to see out there, and even more to capture.

Send us your photo’s…

Black Cat love to see and share your pictures from Banks Peninsula. If you have ever been on or are going on a Black Cat cruise within the next few weeks be sure to upload your favourite photo and share it. We will send an A4 print to you at your home address and your photo will go into a competition to win an Ipad mini! Check out the competition here.

Do you have any great photography tips? Share them with us below and we’ll give away a pair of Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise tickets to the one we think is best!

Tickets will be awarded by Dec 31st 2013.

AKAROA FRENCH FEST 2013

Akaroa French Fest

Akaroa French Fest 2013

Piper and Heidsieck French Fest 2013 is happening from the 11th to the 13th of October in Akaroa. Just in case the quaint seaside village itself wasn’t enough to entice you over for the weekend, here are five reasons you should head over the hill for this fantastic celebration of everything French.

Fête de Rue (Street Party)

The festival kicks off on Friday evening along Beach Road with a fantastic night of food and entertainment. Enjoy open air dining overlooking the sea at one of the main road’s many excellent restaurants, each offering a menu full of French cuisine. And to add to the excitement, roving performers and musicians will amuse and entertain diners, while the evening is topped off by a fireworks display.

Akaroa. C’est La Vie

Akaroa french fest

The Landing & Parade

Theatrics and drama galore are ready to be found on Saturday morning. If you head over early to the shores French Bay you’ll get the chance to hear the story of Akaroa’s colonial history retold by the descendants of those who arrived on the Comte de Paris back in 1840. Educational and entertaining, this part of French Fest gives you some background to what the celebrations are really all about.

Landing reenactment in Akaroa for French Fest

Akaroa French Fest

Festivale dans La Verte (Festival on the Green)

If you’d prefer a bit of a sleep on Saturday, come over the hill a little later for the Festivale dans La Verte. An official opening ceremony kicks the day off at 11.30, with a brass band parade and buskers to get the festivities going. Music and markets go throughout the day, and the local toy library’s puppet shows, face painting, and bouncy castle are bound to keep the kids busy too. And for the more competitive, there’s the chance to take out the title of the French Waiters Race, or try your hand at the classically French game of Péntanque.

French Fest Mardi Gras

When the sun starts to set the show really gets going on Saturday night. The parade leading into the Carnival Party at Jubilee Park will leave you dazzled and delighted. Bands, roving street performers, and even colourful can-can dancers will fill the streets and bring the night to life. And once darkness sets in at around 9pm, the Carnival Show gets going – something a little more risqué for a more mature audience.

Akaroa French Fest Performers

Akaroa attractions

French Cricket

Finish of a fabulously French weekend with a day of fun and games at the French Cricket tournament on the Village Green. A mix of 20/20 and backyard cricket makes this light-hearted sport great for a day of sitting back and picnicking in the sun with the whole family. But don’t be fooled by the jovial nature of the game – once it gets down to the Grand Finals the teams get a little more than a little competitive in pursuit of the prestigious title and the trophy that comes with it. 

Whether you’re there for a day, a night, or the whole festival, the Piper and Heidsieck French Fest has something fun and French for everyone to experience. See the full schedule below.

Akaroa French Fest Programme

Akaroa French Fest Programme

FIVE SURPRISING THINGS TO DO IN AKAROA

Beneath the picturesque surface of Akaroa there are many things you can do that you may not expect from the small seaside village. Here are a few you should try out the next time you’re over in the beautiful Banks Peninsula:

1. Getting in the Water

With the harbour on its doorstep, the fact that you can get in the water in Akaroa may not be all that surprising – but the array of exciting activities available is. During the warmer months of the year, going out into the harbour for a refreshing swim, hiring a kayak or pedal boat, or jumping off the wharf is the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon with the kids. For those who are a little more adventurous, book an Akaroa Sea Kayaking trip –  and get you up close and personal with what the water has to offer. Or if you want to up the ante, clip on a life-jacket and take a spin around the bay with Akaroa Jet Adventures.  And of course there is always the wonderful staff at Black Cat cruises to tour you around the harbour on an Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise and introduce you to the fascinating history, geography and wildlife of the region.

2. Perfect Your Culinary Skills

Situated by the waterfront with a gorgeous view of the bay, The Akaroa Cooking School is a great place to spend a day picking up a recipe or two. Named by Lonely Planet as one of the top ten places to learn to cook local cuisine in the world, you can be sure that you’ll be learning how to make something exciting with great produce. Using fresh, local ingredients – much of which is grown in their own garden – and keeping class sizes small so that everyone gets one on one time with the chef, The Akaroa Cooking School ensures quality for your day of cooking. And of course, a fantastic meal you can replicate at home.

3. Under the Stars

Away from the light pollution of the inner city, Akaroa provides the perfect backdrop for aspiring astronomy aficionados. On Friday and Saturday nights you can head over to Astronomic Delights at the nearby Heritage Park to gaze up at the stars through a 10 inch Newtonian telescope. With spectacular views, especially on a really clear night, it’s well worth the 10 minute drive out of the township – just remember to wrap up warm.

4. En Français

Every second year Akaroa celebrates its French cultural heritage with the Piper Heidsieck French Fest. As New Zealand’s only French settlement, this event gives you the unique chance to experience what that those who started out in this place had to offer. Market stalls, a parade, and a re-enactment of the French landing at the beach are just some of the famous and fun activities on offer. Add fabulous French cuisine and the streets lined with entertainment and music to the mix and you’ll see why this Akaroa event is a must-do. This year the French Fest will be held on October 11th – 13th and the Christchurch City Council will also be helping locals get into the spirit of things with a special Christchurch to Akaroa shuttle service running on the 12th. Check out our next blog post for more details…

5. Go For a Walk

Seeing the beauty of Akaroa’s natural landscape on foot, or walking up and over the surrounding hills is a great way to spend some time in Banks Peninsula. Go for a wander yourself on one of the marked tracks around the harbour, soaking up the beautiful views before lunch by the seaside. Or if you’re up for more of a challenge, check out the Banks Peninsula Track – a private track that includes volcanic coastline, native bush, waterfalls and sandy beaches. You can book a two day walk for a more fast-paced and high fitness adventure, or a four day trek for a more relaxed and leisurely pace through the hills. The spectacular views make trekking through the hills one of the most stunning experiences in the South Island.

For more information on Akaroa visit www.akaroa.com

THE BENEFITS OF SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS

Getting up close and personal with the Hector’s dolphins of Banks Peninsula has been an unforgettable experience for hundreds of people every year. For many, having the chance to swim with these endangered creatures is simply an amazing opportunity in itself. However, there is more to swimming with the dolphins than just the thrill of getting into the water with such a rare, friendly, and playful animal.

Dolphin Assisted Therapy

Over recent years, research into the benefits of swimming with dolphins has resulted in some interesting discoveries. Dolphin Assisted Therapy, as it is sometimes called, is where people with mental or physical disabilities undergo sessions where they swim and interact with dolphins in the hope that it will improve their ailments. This has become a fairly popular treatment for those with disabilities, as its benefits are said to include improving the immune system, self-control, awareness, and feelings of compassion and self-confidence. However, although successes have been achieved, there are mixed opinions about taking the animal out of its natural habitat.

The benefits of swimming with dolphins in the wild, with minimal interference in their natural day-to-day lives, can have a great outcome for both humans and the animals.

Hector’s Dolphins Jumping in Akaroa

Hector's Dolphins Jumping in Akaroa

The Science Bit

Firstly, for us humans, swimming in general is beneficial for our health. Getting active out in the open water is not only great exercise, but also a wonderfully refreshing experience. The salt water you are swimming in contains many magnificent minerals which are great for your health and you skin. Sodium keeps the immune system in check. Bromide relieves muscle pain and soreness.  Magnesium helps with a healthy nervous system. Not to mention the fact that an improvement in circulation and the state and elasticity of your skin are also benefits that have been attributed to swimming in seawater. And if this isn’t enough to convince you salt water also helps to detoxify the body and promote cellular regeneration.

With the summer approaching it’s simply great fun to get out there and cool off!

Sustainability

And then, of course, there are the dolphins. We get the thrill of seeing what it’s like for these fascinating creatures in their environment, and they reap the benefits that come with our interest in them. Aspects of keeping the species alive and well protected, such as community education, conservation initiatives and legislation, and encouraging an interest in nature and sustainability, are all bi-products of marine ecotourism and have wonderful outcomes for the dolphins.

If one looks at what people like Liz Slooten, Ron Bingham, and others associated with wildlife conservation in Banks Peninsula have done, it’s easy to see how this fun tourist activity can have a long-lasting, positive effect for our endangered species.

Dolphin Swimming in Akaroa

Swimming with dolphins Akaroa

Experience It

Swimming with the Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa really is a once in a lifetime experience as not only are the world’s rarest and smallest, they are also native to New Zealand and Akaroa is the only place you can book this experience.

If you’re keen to see the benefits of swimming with the dolphins for yourself, get out there with Black Cat Cruises in Akaroa. Last Sunday our boats hit the water again for the summer 2013/14 season.

First dolphin swim boat of the season in Akaroa

Black Cat Dolphin Swimming Akaroa

You can find more information and make bookings here

http://www.blackcat.co.nz/swimming-with-dolphins.html

Have you had an experience with dolphins you’d like to share? Tell us your story by commenting below. We’d love to hear them!

20 BIRDS YOU SHOULD EXPECT TO SEE IN AKAROA

Banks Peninsula is well known for its gorgeous scenery and breath taking views. But amongst the vast beauty found in the area, there lives a wide array of wildlife. Akaroa’s birds are just a few of many creatures you’ll find, but if you’re around in the warmer months, keep an eye out and there’s a good chance you’ll spot quite a few of them:

1. Little Blue Penguin: The blue penguin is the smallest penguin in the world, standing at only 25cm tall and weighing in at under a kilogram.

little blue penguin akaora black cat cruises
Little Blue Penguin

2. Yellow-eyed Penguin: Another rare New Zealand penguin, the Māori name for this bird is ‘hoiho,’ which means ‘noise shouter.’

akaroa yellow eyed penguin black cat cruises
Yellow Eyed Penguin

3. Black Shag: The Black Shag can often be seen feeding on fish in the harbour. This used to cause a stir amongst fishing enthusiasts who thought they were eating sport fish. However, the Black Shag does not have a significant impact on the fishing population, despite still being persecuted by some.

black shag akaroa bird black cat cruises
Black Shag

4. Mollymawk: Part of the Albatross family and only found in the southern hempisphere these large birds are very vocal and can often be seen swooping around at the heads of Akaroa bay.

Mollymawk
Mollymawk

5. Spotted Shag: Ledges of cliffs, overhanging the water of the sea below, are popular breeding and nesting areas for Spotted Shags. This makes Banks Peninsula an ideal area to spot one.

Akaroa bird life black cat cruises
Spotted Shags in Akaroa

6.White-faced Heron: The White-faced Heron is originally an Australian species, but introduced itself here in the 1940s and as a result is classified as a native bird of New Zealand.

white faced heron black cat cruises akaroa
White Faced Heron in Akaroa

7. Pukeko: Known for running out in front of oncoming vehicles, although the Pukeko may appear to have mild suicidal tendencies, they are often seen there because the habitat is ideal for hunting and gathering food.

pukeko akaroa bird black cat cruises
Pukeko

8. Australasian Bittern: Shy and secretive birds during the day, the Australasian Bittern usually come out at night to mate and hunt for food.

Australasian Bittern can be found in akaroa
Australasian Bittern

9.New Zealand Falcon: Fearless, the New Zealand Falcon has a reputation for swooping down, finding its prey, and not letting go until it gets what it wants. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of these beautiful creatures.

Falcon akaroa black cat cruises
New Zealand Falcon

10. South Island Pied Oystercatcher: There are many species of Oystercatchers, so many that experts find it difficult to agree on a number. The South Island Pied species is a wary and restless creature with a shrill cry.

akaroa bird black cat cruises
Oystercatcher Akaroa

11. Caspian Tern: Another international bird, the Caspian Tern is also known as the ‘King of Sea-Swallows’ on account of it’s very large size.

Terns in Akaroa

Terns in akaroa black cat cruises

12.  Shining Cuckoo: This pretty little bird is about the size of a sparrow and gets its name from having an iridescent coat that shines greenish blue in the light.

Cuckoo

cuckoo akaroa

13.  Morepork: You wouldn’t expect it, but these small owls that lurk in the trees are carnivorous creatures, sometimes feeding on animals larger than themselves.

Morepork

Morepork found in Akaroa

14.  Kingfisher: The collective noun for a group of Kingfisher birds is a “concentration,” perhaps referring to its broad and steady build, strong enough to take down small mammals.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher you can find in Akaroa

15.  New Zealand Pipit: The pipit has quite drab colouring, but this is to provide camouflage, allowing them to blend in against the forest floor.

Pipit

Pipit you can find in Akaroa

16.  Fantail: Although the Fantail can suffer greatly through a harsh winter, they’ve developed strategies to survive, like having more than one brood in the right conditions, sleeping in late to avoid the cold morning frosts, and tucking away in bushes and haystacks to keep themselves warm.

Fantail

Fantail found in Akaroa

17.  Song Thrush: You can distinguish the Song Thrush from other birds by listening out for its cheerful and uplifting tunes. Some say their musical ability in terms of rhythm, tone, harmony, and melody can compete with that of humans.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush Akaroa new zealand

18.  Bellbird: Another song bird, this little critter makes the sound of a single bell-like note, perfect to break a morning slumber.

Bellbird

The Bellbird found in akaroa

19.  Starling: The starling gets its name from the markings on its feathers that gleam like tiny white stars. However, this only happens in the summer months, glistening in the sun.

Starling

Starling bird found in akaroa

20.Silvereye: Like the Tui and the Bellbird, the Silvereye has a brush-tipped tongue for drinking nectar.

Silvereye

sILVER EYE AKAROA BIRD

PLACES TO STAY IN AKAROA

Experience the charm, character and colour of our little town, Akaroa. No matter when or how you decide to venture over to the beautiful bays, there’s always a friendly and welcoming place to stay. Whether you’re after a cosy bach to while away the rest of the winter in or thinking of somewhere to put up your tent up in the summer months, Akaroa has a great selection of places to set up your base for a getaway to remember.

Akaroa is full of charm, character and colour

Places to stay akaroa

Countryside Settings

Akaroa is also famous for its historic hideaways. If you’re after more of a quaint, country experience, take a look at some of the historic homesteads and cottages available for rent. With a selection of private rooms or self contained units on offer at well established places such as Wilderness House or Akaroa Cottages, there’s plenty to choose from for a quieter getaway. Over the hill there’s also the Shamarra Alpaca Farmstay, for those who want the comforts of modern accommodation with a taste of a working farm too. Bed and breakfasts in the area also give you a chance to meet the locals at the same time as enjoying the seclusion of the countryside setting.

Shamarra Farm Stay Alpacas in Akaroa

shamarra alpacas akaroa

Baches

If you’re after a place you can have all to yourself, while still being comfortably close to the streets along the shore, rent yourself a bach up in the Akaroa hills. Having your own place for a few weeks means settling in for the summer is a breeze, and there’s plenty of space for the boat. Booking in advance gives you a better chance of securing your own private getaway in those warmer months, but if you’re after a weekend retreat in the chillier part of the year, the process is a little less gruelling. And there’s nothing quite like wrapping up warm next to the fire, tucked away from the city’s bustle on a cold winter’s night.

Romantic Settings

The seaside village is also a popular place for couples to spend a romantic weekend together. And set against the French backdrop and glorious scenery there are a number of motels and apartments with waterfront views, perfect for a night with that someone special. Try L’hotel for a warm winter getaway – their downstairs bar and restaurant has an open fire, candlelight dinners and ambient music, setting a perfect scene for any couples weekend away. Or for a luxurious night or two for a special occasion, book a room with Waterfront Superior Suites, who’s beautiful interior design and stunning balcony views will be sure to make it an anniversary or honeymoon to remember.

Romantic settings in Akaroa

akaroa romantic escape getaway

Families and Backpackers

For the more budget conscious, or for those trekking their way around the country, Akaroa has a great selection of backpackers and family campgrounds that ensure you get more bang for your buck. Head up the hill to Akaroa’s Top Ten Holiday Park to pitch your tent, park your campervan, or perhaps crash in a cabin for your stay. Or if you’re a tourist on foot, take the chance to meet fellow travellers and book a bed at one of the backpackers or hostels closer to shore. Popular backpackers and hostels include Akaroa Dolphin, Bon Accord, and Chez la Mer, with most offering Wi-Fi so you can keep in touch with those back home.

Akaroa has plenty on offer to suit your accommodation needs, and with something for everyone’s budget, it’s not hard to enjoy more than just the one day in the beautiful seaside village, giving you plenty of time to explore everything it has to offer.

Vote & Win a luxury weekend in Akaroa!

For your chance to win a luxury weekend in Akaroa, which will include two nights accomodation at the exclusive retreat that is the Shamarra Farmstay, along with $300 in cash to wine and dine yourselves and an experience with Black Cat Cruises….simply vote on your favorite picture here. Remember The competition closes August 31st 2013 and the prize is for two people so tell your friends and don’t miss out!

Entry: Akaroa foggy morning by Derek Watts

Akroa harbour foggy morning

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.