Leader: Diana Stewart

Trip Report: Barry Dench

Fifteen of us enjoyed 2 days and 2 nights of fine weather and warm nights in Kaikoura. Kaikoura has a lot to offer landscape and natural history photographers from on-land shots, however the real deal for our weekend was the chance to view and photograph albatross / mollymawk, other sea birds and seals in the marine environment and a bonus getting close to Dusky dolphins.

Accommodation was at the Canterbury Underwater Lodge in Kaikoura, sharing with other groups. The lodge has a large kitchen and dining area, spacious lounge and a number of medium to large bedrooms in the main building- each taking up to 5 single beds. Ablution rooms were mostly in the basement necessitating use of fairly steep stairs.

Several of us visited South Bay for Friday’s sunset and achieved reasonable shots. Saturday’s sunrise was a non-event; however the cloud cover provided some assistance with our shots of white birds on the water or in flight in the morning and afternoon boat trips. Sundays sunrise was more conducive to photography.

“Fish Kaikoura” operates a 8.2m purpose built vessel catering for fishing groups mainly but the deck space provided a reasonable amount of room for 7 photographers if positioned on 3 sides. From the South Bay jetty we headed around to the north side of the peninsula adjacent to the old fish depot, then east to approx. 2.5km off East Head where albatross / mollymawk were located in deeper water and then travelled west to Barneys Rock (Panau Island) where seals and the large pod of dolphins were present. We came across storm petrels etc. mid bay where the odd albatross checked us out and several blue sharks were spotted, one approx. 3 metres in length.

Owner/ skipper Mark provided useful information about the bird and marine life etc. and gave us adequate time at each location where we came across seals, dolphins, albatross, shags and petrels etc. A bonus was us having crayfish for dinner, generously provided by our skipper. Each trip took approx. 4 hours.

Although a more or less windless day and a flat sea, the swell nevertheless provided a challenge composition wise. Fast shutter speed was a must. Overall an enjoyable and informative section of our weekend’s activity.

Kaikoura is a premium marine birding area where you can get close to albatross etc., just a few minutes from leaving South Bay. To quote from www.birdingnz.net/articles/2012/kaikoura
“the Kaikoura Canyon plunges over a km beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean just a short boat ride from shore. Converging and upwelling of deep currents in the canyon are the foundations of a rich food chain, supporting a variety of fish, marine mammals and what is probably the best and most accessible pelagic bird watching in the world.”

The article goes onto name the albatross species present- wandering, northern royal and southern royal as well as the smaller species (mollymawks) – black-browed, Campbell, white-capped, Salvin’s, Chatham Island and Buller’s. There is also a rich variety of other pelagic birds- Hutton’s shearwaters and others, penguins, Australasian gannets, white fronted and Caspian terns, petrels, prions.

From the many photos taken, this trip will provide memorable shots of albatross / mollymawks both on the water and in flight, other birds, the large pod of Dusky dolphins aerial display & acrobatics which is believed to help synchronize cooperative foraging and seals close up.

On Saturday morning members on the afternoon boat trip, ventured up the lower slopes of Mt. Fyffe and walked the Hinau Loop Track. This is a 45 minute loop track through unusual forest cover including Mahoe, Putaputaweta, Broadleaf, Tree fuchsia, Pigeonwood, a number of large Hinau trees and passes through a stand of Kanuka. Several varieties of fungi were seen along the track margins.

In the afternoon, the other group visited Ohau Point for waterfall shots (no seal pups) and then back to Kaikoura for more low tide reef shots.

Saturdays pot luck dinner capped off a successful day of photo opportunities and learning experience, interesting conversation, good food including crayfish, drink and relaxation.

On Sunday we visited the “Maori Leap Cave” at South Bay. A fascinating trip into a limestone cave formed several thousand years ago by wave action, led by our very knowledgeable guide. Well worth the $15 pp. Flash and tripods permitted. See photo of tooth fairy’s little place.

Some of us then travelled home via the Inland Kaikoura Road, stopping off at Waikene (Scotts Rd), hoping to visit the Tukutukuiwi Reserve and waterfall. The waterfall couldn’t be found and the farm owner who kindly granted us access across his land advised that the Tukutukuiwi Reserve, that has caves with Maori rock drawings, is no longer open.

An enjoyable trip with much diversity and interest. Close encounters with albatross / mollymawks, other sea birds, seals at sea and on land and dolphins plus on-land birds, forest cover and landscape shots, added up to a memorable and successful photographic trip. And not forgetting the tour of the South Bay cave.

Many thanks to Diana for organising and leading the trip.

More images on flickr