Kaikoura to Christchurch

Friday was our Maori tour day where we went all over Kaikoura learning about their culture and traditions. We learned how to fold flax leaves into really cool flowers and shared a delicious traditional Maori meal while memorizing Maori songs and singing them way off key, gaining some funny looks from the professionals. Afterwards, we had a dinner out in the not- so- bustling town of Kaikoura and celebrated one of my fellow student’s 21st birthday (even though the legal drinking age in New Zealand is 18 he still had to do it). Saturday morning was filled with excitement because the big excursion scheduled for the day was a dolphin swim! It took us an hour to get all fitted in wetsuits and out on the boats, but I was so incredibly glad we were wearing those ridiculous outfits covering our bodies head to toe because the water was less than 50 degrees no lie. To add to that, a storm on it’s way from Antarctica was coming up the coast (that’s actually not a joke they call them Southerlies and are feared across the nation for bringing in chilly weather and crazy wind). Our guide, Pat Devlin, a New Zealand native and elderly man with too much wisdom and kindness to even know what to do with told me that a Southerly can make the temperature drop by half of the original amount in just 20 minutes… YIKES. Of course this incoming weather wasn’t a great help to those prone to seasickness. At one point, I looked around the boat and at least 4 people were over a bucket …yes, it was that bad. But don’t get me wrong, it was also AMAZING. On the way out to sea, the boat was going up and down like a buoy the swells were so big and we even saw some albatrosses. If you don’t know what those are they’re pretty much just gigantor seagulls with an 11 foot wingspan (some refer to it as the modern day pterodactyl not kidding). With our wetsuits, flippers, facemasks, and snorkels covering every inch of our body besides the little part between your nose and your chin, we headed out to where a pod of more than 200 DOLPHINS were spotted. The captain barely slowed the boat down before we all leapt into the freezing cold water hoping the dolphins would come swim with us. Because they’re wild, the only way to lure them in is to make the most obnoxiously high-pitched noises underwater as possible. We probably sounded like absolute freaks but let me tell you it definitely worked. Despite the fact my whole body felt like an ice cube (hypothermia would have been a definite if we were in there without a wetsuit), the dolphins seemed quite interested in the annoyingly high-pitched melodies I was making and would zoom past. I swear to God I had eye contact with one dolphin and it just swam around me in circles for a few seconds. The best way I can describe the experience is when it’s just one of those times where you have to keep reminding yourself that it truly is real life even though it feels too perfect to be true. After the dolphins had moved on, we quickly swam back to the boat sitting on the back platform (mind you still sitting in the ice water) until we caught up to the front of the pod again to hop out another time! This process happened 5 times and was the most exhausting yet exhilarating experience I think I have ever had the opportunity to take part in. It truly felt like I was visiting another world with how ridiculously perfect it was. I mean come on… swimming with dolphins in New Zealand??? Sunday was our service learning day back in Christchurch where we went out to the eastern suburbs of the city to help with earthquake devastated areas. We spent a couple of hours pulling weeds and mulching for a new native plant initiative on land where an upper class residential neighborhood once stood. It was pretty eerie with the streets and some of the driveways to a cement foundation still somewhat evident, but it was also rewarding to know we were helping to start the rebuild. After wheelbarrowing for a while, we drove to the beach for a nice packed lunch at the pier watching the surfers and getting attacked by seagulls. Once we returned to the center of the city, we took a small tour pointing out different projects attempting to revamp the area and encourage people to live there again despite the previous natural disaster’s toll. We also had a lecture with a man who was extremely crucial to the earthquake recovery project and even the past leader of the Student Volunteer Army who organized local Christchurch students like himself to help those in need. Here’s some crazy cool pictures so you can feel like you were swimming with dolphins too! https://www.flickr.com/gp/132720548@N07/584g59