Day 2 of my holiday and my alarm goes off at 7am. I am instantly regretting that decision. But 10 minutes later, when I am standing on a paddle board in the middle of The Sounds on mirror flat water, best decision ever!
No one is around, I have the inlet to myself. I paddle out a way, stop, close my eyes and just listen. Birds singing, water lapping and that’s it. Places like this always make me want to move out of the city.
I am heading to the other side of the inlet, I was told there is a nesting shag colony. I stand on my paddleboard looking up at them, they are watching me to, especially the mama birds, they are keeping a close eye on me. Little fluffy chicks are perched up high in their nests. Then I look at the water below me. Crystal clear. I love to just watch in places like this. What initially may look like water and rocks starts to come alive the longer you linger. Sea cucumbers are the first thing I notice, then tiny fish darting about. Starfish and Kina are there too. Life is all around us.
I am back at the shore by 8am and already the wind is starting to pick up a bit. Early is definitely the best time to go. I think I will do another early morning trip while I am here. I read there is a point where the seals like to hang out at. That could be fun.
Lochmara has an underwater observatory. A semi submerged boat with glass windows so you can become part of the underwater world. The tour begins at the shore with stingray feeding and some hungry shags.
Lochmara used to have about 15 short tail stringray that had been trained for hand feeding. In Feburary, a pod of hungry orca visited the inlet and ate all their trained stingray. There are a couple of new stringray that they are now trying to train. The are such graceful creatures. Our tour is with a marine biologist who is able to share some facts about the stingray. Such as their size. They can grow up to 2 meters wide and 4 meters long!! The short tail stingray are one of the largest species of stingray. The one she is feeding today must be young. It’s big, but nowhere near that big. The sting that they have on their tail takes a very long time to regrow, so if they use it, it leaves them very vulnerable without any means for defense. For this reason, if the choice is between fight or flight, they will choose flight. The only time they would really sting a human is if you stand on them (you can avoid this by shuffling your feet in the sand) or if you interfered with them.
We then move onto the touch pond. Its an educational place and the children in the group are having a blast, picking up starfish, seaweed and hermit crabs. There are even a couple of seahorses in there (not allowed to touch them) but I use my gopro to film them. Like the stingray, they are very graceful and seem to be quite shy creatures.
We head onto the boat and down below the deck. We are transported into a marine world. Fish are everywhere and the shags are diving down swimming past the windows. I see lobsters and a moon jellyfish. Jellyfish are really interesting to watch. These particular ones sting, but their stingers are too small to pierce human skin so we don’t need to worry about getting stung by them. Its a whole other world down there and rather fascinating to watch!
After lunch I head out to see the animals being fed. Lochmara has a variety of animals on site as well as a rehabilitation center. The have some breeding programs and are able to educate visitors about the different animals. First up is the Kunekune pigs and they are hungry. They are incredibly messy eaters, they loose their teeth as they get older so their tongue hangs out the side while they are chowing down the food. A cheeky, brave Weka sneaks in to quickly grab some of the food scraps. Having the pigs helps with the waste management. Anything that can be fed to the pigs is. There is no waste disposal here so rubbish has to be shipped out.
Next up is the eels but they aren’t hungry. Our guide said they are pretty spoilt. They get fed blue cod but if they don’t think it’s fresh enough, they wont eat it and just wait for the next day. They are quite fascinating creatures. There are 2 varieties, the long fin eel and the short fin eel. They look very similar but the difference is important. There are not a lot of long fine eels. They can live up to 100 years or more and only breed once in their lifetime. They swim all the way to Tonga to breed, then the babies drift all the way back to New Zealand. I also learnt that eels can survive out of water for 3 days, so long as their skin stays wet. They can climb waterfalls that are 20 meters and jump 10 meters high. So, as our guide points out, if they wanted to leave the pond they are in, there is nothing stopping them.
Last up is the Kakariki. Our little native parrot with bright green feathers that look a bit like moss. They have a red crest on their head and blue tones in their wings. They are pretty little birds that make quite a loud screeching sound. We are given some bird seed in our hands and the Kakariki waste no time landing on our palms to feed. The first one that lands in my hand starts flicking off all the seed. It’s looking for the sunflower seeds. I really enjoyed this experience. It’s special to be able to get so close to them. One even lands on my head.
I decide to escape the day crowds and go for a bit of a wander around the place, there is lots to discover and explore. I come across some lamas, sheep and goat grazing in the grass. There are ‘Punga People’ carvings done into trees, a lizard inn, ‘Crumpy’s Camp’, a replica of an early bushman’s lodge and lots of signs that tell you about all the different flora and fauna. It’s an educational walk. Higher up, I come to the observatory. An open grassy area with hammocks. It would be a great place for star gazing. But also pretty good for an afternoon nap which is what I do.
After dark I head out again down to the bay. There is bioluminesence in the water. It’s too cold for me to be tempted to go for a swim so I grab a kayak paddle and move it about in the water and watch it sparkle in the night. I have never seen anything like this before.
Isn’t nature amazing?