E-Ko Tours, part 1

Today is bucket list day.

My husband and I spent many years trying to start a family. There was a 2 year period where my life felt like it was just a series of blood tests, pills, injections and procedures.

Life was unintentionally put on hold.

I longed for the day I could make plans more than a couple of weeks ahead.

That activity that I dreamed about doing – swimming with dolphins.

This morning we are joining E-ko Tours in the hope of making that bucket list item a reality.

It’s a beautiful, still sunny day, perfect for dolphin spotting and swimming. We check in at E-Ko tours and change into the wetsuit, mask and snorkels we are provided with. Then we have a short introduction video about what to expect on the trip and some key do’s and don’ts.

The group gets asked if everyone has swum in the open ocean before. I forget sometimes how lucky we are in New Zealand. No one lives more than a 2-3 hour drive from the ocean. Beach holidays are a quintessential part of being a kiwi. The fact that some people live hours away from the ocean, with some never even seeing it, is such a foreign thought.

There are 5 different species of dolphin we might see on this trip; the common dolphin, dusky dolphin, bottle nose dolphin, hectors dolphin and orca. We are told that we are only allow to swim with the first 3 types of dolphins as hector’s dolphins are rare and endangered and in New Zealand Orca are not classified as a dolphin so we can’t swim with them either.

We board the boat and are handed binoculars and species cards. We are the last to board, but get the best seats – right up the front, behind the captain. We seem to have the only opening window – the rest of the boat is enclosed so it means I am not taking pictures through the glass.

Marlborough Sounds is beautiful, lush and green with really still water. We see seals basking on the rocks and also one just chilling out in the ocean, quite content with it’s bit of kelp seaweed.

New Zealand Fur Seal chilling with it’s kelp
Catching some rays while having a snooze

There is lots of bird life and we also spot a pair of little blue penguins swimming. They were so cute and I loved the fun fact that little blue penguins mate for life.

Seabirds enjoying their ocean playground

After an hour or so, we have our first dolphin sighting. Little black ‘micky mouse ear’ fins popping out of the water. Hector’s dolphins have a very distinctive, small, black rounded dorsal fin. We stop the boat and spend quite some time bobbing up and down in the water watching these beautiful, curious and playful creatures from the boat. They are the world’s smallest dolphins with adults measuring 1.2 – 1.4 meters. We are told that there are about 40 that live in the Sounds. It’s quite an experience to watch them. They come quite close to the boat, and we all watch, waiting for those flashes of silver to appear as they come up to the surface.

It was such a special encounter.

To be continued..

Cruising on the Interislander

In February, my husband and I packed up the motorbike and headed out a road trip adventure around the South Island. I have been really looking forward to writing about this, but at the same time, putting it off a bit because I just don’t know where to start. It was such an epic trip, in such a beautiful part of the country; I want to make sure I do it justice!

Our trip began on the eve of Waitangi day, we were on a 5pm sailing and at 1pm, I still hadn’t packed. Packing for a motorbike trip can be quite quick, you don’t have a lot of luggage space so there isn’t actually that much to pack. On the other hand, it can be quite a challenge deciding what is really essential and deserves a space in the small side pannier.

Between us we have 1 set of panniers, a small backpack and a tank pack. Somehow, I managed to fit all of this:

Into this:

Packing completed. Time to head to the ferry.

While waiting to board, we got chatting to another motorcyclist. One of the things I love about travelling on a motorbike is that you are instantly in a club. When out on the road, other riders will give you a nod or a wave, and when you’re parked up, they will just start chatting to you, sharing stories of the adventures they have had on their bike.

Wellington had put on some nice weather for us, thankfully. I don’t really have an issue with motion sickness, but the cook straight can get pretty rough. I have been on one of those rough sailings and I don’t wish to do it again!

Beautiful day to set sail

The ferry ride is around 3.5 hours, about an hour of which is through the picturesque Marlborough sounds. We had a pretty smooth sailing, apart from a rough 30 minute patch after we left the shelter of Wellington harbour.  It was a full sailing and the motorbikers were last to board, so all the inside seats and the outside seats at the front were taken by the time we got on board. We ended up in the only available seats we could find, which happened to be outside in the smokers area, but also in the centre of the boat. Now here is a tip from my mum to you – ‘Stay in the centre of the boat, it’s more stable there’. Yes the boat was rocking and we watched the horizon going up and down, but neither of us had any sea sickness. When I went inside to get some food, I passed a lot of very ill looking passengers. Excellent advice mum!

It’s near impossible to get a photo of Daniel smiling. He pulls a face every time the camera comes out (unless he is standing next to a Super Car, then he will smile!)

We then entered the calm waters of the Marlborough sounds. It is so picturesque and beautiful. A flock of birds effortlessly glide through the air, following alongside the boat. The water is so still and the setting sun casts a golden glow across the hills. I watch as birds feed on schools of fish that have risen to the surface.

What a way to start our holiday.

We arrived in Picton, a quiet, peaceful town and drove a couple of minutes down the road to our accommodation. Tonight we are staying at Sequoia Lodge Backpackers,  a pretty place, with tropical looking plants, a spa pool and giant chess set. The rooms were simple but clean. All we needed.

We then decided to head across the road to a local pub, Crow Tavern, to grab some dinner and a wine. The pub has a bit of a kitch, kiwiana feel to it, the staff are friendly and there is a really chilled out atmosphere.  This  place feels  like it is a bit of a community hub, reading the notices on the board I learn that Kerri-oke is cancelled this Saturday as Kerri is away.  

That made me smile. 

But now it’s time to get some rest. We have a decent ride a head of us tomorrow we want to be feeling fresh for the next leg of the journey.

The Details

There are 2 ferry companies that operate between Wellington and Picton, The Interislander (which we traveled on) and Blue Bridge. Both companies have multiple sailing times during the day.

Our return trip for 2 adults and a motorbike cost us $336. (You need to take your own tie downs for the motorbike)

Sequoia Lodge Backpackers is in a convenient location and only a couple of minutes drive from the ferry terminal. Linen, towels and breakfast is included in the price. There are a variety of room types to suit all budgets. We stayed in a double room with shared bathroom for $76.