Days 170 – 175 (Nov 18th – Nov 23rd) At sea and New Zealand. Gisborne, Napier, Wellington, Kaikoura and Nelson

Sea days have been a bit more exciting as the ship has passed through the feeding grounds of many species of petrels and shearwaters. These birds are attracted by the ship’s lights at night and some end up landing onboard, often finding it impossible to take off again so they find a dark place to hide

The Ventures team started early morning patrols of all the decks and have rescued a number of different birds of varying species. The Black-winged petrel was our first

Followed by a Little shearwater a day later

We were also treated to good views of a large pod of short-beaked common dolphins as they crossed the path of the ship

One of the more American aspects of life onboard is what’s known as the “block party”, where everyone stands outside their room at 6pm and talks to their neighbours over a glass of fizz. This was the last one before arriving in Sydney and we were all then invited up to the Observation Deck for photographs. The multi-talented Bojan, nominally the barista and unofficial IT expert on board, is also the unofficial photographer of the ship as he has the knack of making us look much better on screen than in reality

Mind you Helen has done the same for him…

Bojan, purveyor of caffeine, pastries and good humour

Earlier that day new COVID regulations were announced, stating masks were required onboard for the first time since early October. Quite fortuitously these urgent new regulations weren’t imposed until the morning after the block party…once all the photos had been taken!.

On this leg of our journey around New Zealand, our first port of call was Gisborne, a city on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s known for wineries, surf beaches, being the first city on the planet to see the sun rise each morning and indigenous and colonial history.

Gisborne’s Kaiti Beach is the place where British navigator Captain James Cook made his first landing in New Zealand upon the Endeavour. Cook had earlier set off from Plymouth, England, in August 1768 on a mission bound for Tahiti and on 9 October 1769, Cook came ashore on the eastern bank of the Turanganui River, accompanied by a party of men. Their arrival was marred by misunderstanding and resulted in the death and wounding of nine Māori over four days. This “misunderstanding” seriously compromised Cook’s ability to restock his ship, the reason he called the area Poverty Bay. The landing site was commemorated by a monument in 1906, on the 137th anniversary of Cook’s arrival.

There were a few trips bookable via Seabourn ranging from tours of historic buildings (historic being used in its widest sense), a steam train ride and a helicopter ride to an estate for a 5 course lunch with wine-pairing for a mere $1000 a head but none of these appealed so we wandered into town, found a cafe, had another breakfast out, sat by the beach, walked past some interesting trees

and wandered back via Cook’s memorial and a woman and friend fishing in the river

Not really our favourite place, run-down and not that attractive. We arrived back on board and spoke with Tali, now in Bangkok for a few days

Napier was our next stop, just 97 miles down the coast so we proceeded at a snail’s pace overnight, arriving at 5 in the morning to a gloriously sunny and warm day.

Napier is most famous for it’s Art Deco buildings restored following a massive earthquake in 1931 which rocked Hawke’s Bay for more than three minutes, killing nearly 260 and destroying the commercial centre of the city.

After wandering around we slowly walked back to the ship via a market and a reminder of how vulnerable these communities are

On returning to the ship there was another stowaway to see and watch be released, a rarely seen, tiny Common diving petrel

And our first albatross, a Northern Royal…

Our third stop was Wellington, deservedly named the windy city and situated right at the southern end of the North Island. We had a walk booked with the Venture team, through the Otari-Wilton’s Bush Botanic Garden with a couple of local tour guides. This place is special as by managing invasive plant species and culling introduced mammals they have created a wonderful nature reserve within minutes of the centre of Wellington. Just up the road is another reserve, Zealandia and the two sites together are contributing positively to the conservation of endangered endemic bird species. On example is that of one New Zealand parrot species, the Kaka, which has done well in Zealandia and has now colonised the Botanic Garden. The reserve was full of bird song, dominated by the Tui, as described in an early blog, but also one of the few mainland birds which migrates in the winter, the Shining cuckoo, but the day belonged to the ferns..

…and the ancient trees, in particular this 800 year old rimu

We then went up to a vantage point above the city

Another source of great pride in Wellington is the recent re-introduction of kiwi to a site near the city, a massive step forward in the conservation of this species as it required that a large tract of land be made habitable by removing all the stoats which are the primary reason why Kiwi are struggling in the wild.

We were dropped off in the city centre near the theatre and the Te Papa museum. The theatre was advertising a couple of interesting shows, including a pantomime!

The museum had a gory and very dramatic exhibition on the role of Kiwi soldiers in Gallipoli with giant models of participants from doctors to nurses telling their own personal story. There was also an earthquake house where you could stand and experience an earthquake…although, with 300 earthquakes a year in Wellington, this might be considered a little superfluous by the locals!

The wet and windy weather in Wellington was replaced by a calm and sunny day in Kaikoura, a town on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The infrastructure of Kaikōura was heavily damaged in the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, which also caused two deaths in the area. The sea level of the bay and surrounding region was lifted by as much as two metres. The Kaikōura Peninsula extends into the sea south of the town, and the resulting upwelling currents bring an abundance of marine life from the depths of the nearby Hikurangi Trench. The town owes its origin to this effect, since it developed as a centre for the whaling industry. The name Kaikōura means ‘meal of crayfish’ (kai – food/meal, kōura – crayfish) and the crayfish industry still plays a role in the economy of the region. However, Kaikōura has now become a popular tourist destination, mainly for whale watching (the sperm whale watching is perhaps the best and most developed in the world) and swimming with or near dolphins. It is also one of the best places in the world to see open ocean seabirds such as albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, including the Hutton’s shearwater which nests high in Kaikōura’s mountains. The view from the ship is impressive

We had booked 2 trips, one in the morning to see whales and dolphins, primarily Dusky dolphins and Sperm whales. The latter have quite predictable habits as they dive to huge depths for around 45 minutes before returning to the surface for several minutes reoxygenating before diving again. The company running these trips have set-up a very slick operation with a number of boats which are all in contact with each other. Seeing a whale diving gave them time to take us to the dolphin area, showing the sheer size of the pod

Three adults with young

And some examples of how acrobatic they can be

Moving further out to sea, the captain used a hydrophone to determine where the Sperm whale was and manoeuvred so we had a good view as it recovered from its dive. Despite the immense bulk and size of a Sperm whale there is actually very little to see until it dives

On arrival at the dock we leapt onto another boat and headed out to sea again, to an area where the continental shelf drops deep into the ocean. Many of the seabirds which live in these waters are currently breeding, desperately looking for food to take back to nest sites on either the mainland or one of the islands in the area. They hunt by a sense of smell combined with a keen eye on what other species are doing. Once food is discovered birds will pile in from miles around. A bag of fish heads was strung out behind the boat and birds started arriving, starting with the only bird even a mother couldn’t love, the Giant petrel

A number of different species turned up in the end ranging from the Giant petrel and 4 species of albatross..

Including an appearance from one of the biggest albatrosses on the planet, the Northern Royal

Northern Royal albatross
Westland petrel (left)

And a species which breeds uniquely in Kaikoura, Hutton’s shearwater

Hutton’s shearwater

Leaving Kaikoura the sunset was yet again spectacular

Unbeknown to us things were happening out at sea which would change our intended itinerary but in the meantime we docked at a chilly and windy Nelson, a place we had little appetite to visit but did as it got us out and about and near more interesting places to grab some lunch. Nelson has the sunniest weather in New Zealand with good wineries to boot. Walking through town as the weather warmed up and calmed down we came across the river

And then signs for the “Centre of New Zealand”, something we had to see having already been to the middle of Canada. By some incredible coincidence this is situated at the top of a hill and is also a famed viewpoint over the city and the surrounding countryside. It was a strenuous and very hot walk but well worth the effort

Walking back into town we were reminded of the ever-present dangers of living in this part of the world

Returning to the ship the captain informed us of a change to our itinerary prompted by a huge storm due to impact on the west coast of the South Island over the next 48 hours. This meant that New Plymouth, our next and final stop on the west coast of North Island had closed their harbour and so we had to re-route. One option was to continue west through the passage between North and South Island towards Tasmania, the other was to head south along the east coast before turning west and heading to Tasmania.

The blue circle marks where we would have been on Thurs 24th Nov. The black line indicates our actual route that day.

The Windy weather app is a great tool for seeing conditions on our route and looking forward a couple of days when we reach the southern end of the South Island and turn west the worst of the weather will have passed, a very good decision by the captain. We now had 4 days at sea before reaching Tasmania.