#11 Swim with dolphins

#11 Swim with dolphins

Imagine for a minute you’re a dolphin (just go with me on this one people). You’re merrily swimming along with about 400 of your mates when you come across a group of strange creatures, wearing silly looking masks and fins, who are madly making squeaking noises in an attempt to attract your attention. Of course you’re going to have a bit of fun with them right?

Which is how we came to find ourselves in Kaikoura surrounded by dolphins swimming up beneath us, back flipping next to us and making us dizzy as they whizzed around us in circles.

I think loads of little girl grow up wanting to swim with dolphins. We all used to watch those films where the boy becomes best friends with a dolphin and secretly thought that, if only we could meet a dolphin, we could do that too.

On the boat on the way out the crew warned us that they couldn’t guarantee whether we’d see anything, as they do not feed the dolphins or entice them in, so it would be up to them whether they decided to interact with us. (I was kind of hoping that they’d take that option seeing as we’d got up at 5.30am to see them.)

The early start meant we got to see a perfect sunrise.

After about 25 minutes we started to see dolphins following the boat. I’ve seen the odd dolphin before but I’ve never experienced a whole pod together.

But moments later between 300 and 400 had surrounded the back of the boat and we were told to jump in. At our introductory talk we’d been told to make noises to attract the attention of the dolphins by either singing or squeaking but I think we all felt a bit silly about the idea of it, especially as other people in the boat had opted just to watch.

However, as soon as we got into the water we didn’t care. I thought it was probably best not to attempt the singing, as I don’t think everyone would have thanked me if I’d managed to scare away the entire pod. But I was all for swimming about making a selection of ridiculous squeaking noises, no doubt entertaining both the people on board and the dolphins.

Dusky dolphins are one of the smallest species, but they were still as long as me (I know that’s not too difficult, but you know what I mean.) When I put my head under the water I could see six or eight at a time swimming so close to me that at times I thought they may actually touch me. It was such a fantastic feeling and I kept ending up with mouthfuls of sea water as I was laughing so much.

The dolphins are ready for playtime.

The crew had also told us a good way to play with the dolphins was to make eye contact with them before swimming around in a circle, which might encourage them to copy you. I decided to give it a go and caught the attention of one before madly trying to propel myself around. He looked at me as if to say: “Ok, so we’re playing this game,” before swimming around me so quickly that it made me dizzy.

Fancy a spin?

It was the most fun morning ever and I was truly in awe of being able to be so close to wild animals. After three swims it was time to head back and by this time I had started to succumb to seasickness so I was feeling pretty keen to get back to dry land. However as I was sat shivering in my swimsuit, with a blanket around me, clutching a bucket (a very attractive look), the skipper suddenly called us all to the front of the boat – regardless of seasickness.

We all ran up like kids on a school trip and then stood waiting in silence. You could feel the excitement in the air and when an orca’s (killer whale) fin appeared out of the water there was actually a collective “oooh” as though we were at a firework show.

It was so incredible to see such a magnificent creature in the wild and the crew told us it was something which only happens every three or four weeks so we felt very lucky. Eventually it was time to head back but just as the boat was pulling away I saw the whale do a full-on Free Willy jump out of the water, which actually made me scream with excitement. (I’d be rubbish if I had to film a nature documentary.)

The photo doesn’t do it justice, but a 2m fin is an impressive sight.

I know I tend to throw the word “amazing” around quite a lot (mostly because many things in life are) but swimming with dolphins – and then being lucky enough to see the orca – is honestly was one of the most amazing things I have ever done.

#11 done and I’m still managing to smile – despite the seasickness!