The World’s Smallest Dolphin
So after the issues at Doubtful Sound we were ‘compensated’ by G Adventures with a windy drive to the south of Christchurch to Akaroa to have (another) cruise. Now you’ve got to feel for the guide. This detour was a demanding drive but also meant that instead of getting to Christchurch at lunchtime we got there in the early evening. As a consequence she had to dump us at the hotel and then go and drop off the bus somewhere else in town. Before leaving the bus she had to clean it internally and externally, in the dark, and get back to the hotel to join us for our farewell dinner. If this wasn’t busy enough she then had to be up the next morning at Stupid O’Clock to get a flight to Auckland for the next tour. Let me tell you guides are not well paid, hence this and the weariness means that there’s a high turnover in guides.
However, back to the cruise… I also sympathise with captains who have to take passengers out to sea hoping to satisfy their desire for wild animals. Will you be lucky and find any? On the agenda were dolphins, seals, various birds including one called a shag and penguins. Well the captain got a full set apart from the penguins although Anna said she saw one. (I think not.)
The Hector’s dolphin was about the size of a large haddock in a decent portion of fish and chips. It was a very small chap.
As we’re peering over the sides expectantly one wag did bellowed… ‘ORCAS’. Of course he hadn’t seen one but the boat listed as 50 passengers bolted to starboard to look for a whale!
The captain had some good patter and my favourite was his advice for those on the bow to hold onto their hats in the wind. ‘If you do lose it then immediately raise your hand. Also any other passengers seeing this hat fly off should also raise their hand. You can then all wave the hat goodbye!’ Another piece of information he gave that was fanciful but he qualified it by saying ‘I did take a drop of whiskey in my coffee earlier. Nah, that not true, I don’t drink coffee.’
I wrote earlier about Christchurch’s earthquake in 2011 and the horrific loss of life. The town as a consequence consists mainly of one storey buildings and is laid out on a grid system. It looks like a provincial English town. The name originates from being named after an Oxford University college.
The guide did eventually make our celebration dinner and was feted for her work. Envelopes, with tips, passed across. I had a burger, obvs. One guest a few days earlier had said she’d asked her travel agent in Canada what was the going rate for tipping. ‘Well you could take something with you from Canada like, say, maple syrup.’ was the advice. Frankly if I’d been given a jar of syrup the donor would have needed surgery to have it removed.
For her hard work and dedication over two weeks, between the two of us, we gave her £100. Judging by the ever so grateful personal WhatsApp we got back thanking us profusely there’s a chance I fear that the other guests were less appreciative and that she’s well provisioned with her pancakes for some time to come.
The party departed home in dribs and drabs with some literally getting up at 3am to catch planes the next day and others hanging on for a couple of extra days. Hugs and email addresses were swapped and then one guest, after departure, advised that she’d tested positive for Covid, a legacy and memory nobody wanted.
In our time we spun round Christchurch dining well and seeing the town, river, memorials and cathedrals. The original cathedral was damaged in the earthquake and that’s being rebuilt but won’t be finished until 2027. In the interim they’ve built a transitional one. This uses shipping containers and cardboard.
I’m not really much of a plant person but I was knocked out by the selection at the Botanical Garden. Not least my desire to eventually see a giant redwood tree.
Christchurch is the largest city, port and airport for Antarctic access and several countries have operations based here. We visited the International Antarctic Centre that was quite interactive (read children running around pushing buttons and not waiting for the outcome before sprinting to the next button). Anna wasn’t very engaged with all the graphics explaining the history, exploration, geology, ice, wildlife etc and I did suggest that somewhere they’d be a room with photocopied outline pictures of penguins she could colour in with crayons and I could be left in peace to read all the walls without being urged to move along. However better than that she found real penguins, again these were blue ones and the smallest, of the breed, in the world and then a couple of huskies to stroke. In fact the dogs are a legacy as none, quite rightly (!) work in Antarctic any more.
I was struck by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his achievements and ultimate demise in the Antarctic. He initially achieved the greatest distance in 1904 of getting toward the South Pole but was beaten to the actual pole by a Norwegian, Roald Admundsen, in 1912 by weeks. Ultimately Scott and his follow explorers perished on that trip.
When you think of the clothing, nutrition, navigation technology, fitness, support etc that these men had it was beyond brave to attempt such a mission. I cannot imagine the deprivation and suffering ultimately leading to a terrible death.
From here we walked to the airport where our separation began as she contemplated the hell of three flights in Business back to Blighty and I revelled in the luxury of Economy. So goodbye New Zealand. Beautiful beyond expectation.
It was a long trip back back and I was bedevilled by unruly children, howling, seemingly unmanageable or small babies who wailed for hours dealing with weariness, the build up of pressure in their ears and the disorientation of clocks moving backwards and forwards.
Being one helluva guy I endured it through gritted teeth (for hours.) as I waded through my seven meals. As I type this a half dressed little three year old girl is running up and down the aisle at 15 mph. The good news is that she’s doing it quietly and, best of all, she’s irritating the stewardesses. It seems no one is claiming her; I wouldn’t. I’ve counted that she’s been past eight times in 10 minutes.
As always thank you for following the story (you have immense stamina.) I worry that I am too often curmudgeonly about folk and places I pass through but Anna and I had a wonderful time with lifetime memories and an appetite to revisit some of the places we’ve been. So where next? That’s half the pleasure.
PS STOP PRESS – Fourteen times and counting