Making our way Southeast from Nelson we pass through Marlborough’s wine region where the mountains and beaches of the upper South Island give way to a warmer and drier landscape of rolling hills. We could easily mistake the view of grape vines just about ready for harvest for as a scene from Napa or Sonoma if not for the occasional presence of New Zealand sheep grazing between the vines.
Two hours further on we are back to the coast, but this time on the Eastern side of the island where the Southern Pacific Ocean crashes onto a rocky shore. We are headed to Kaikoura, a small town where snow capped 7000’ mountains rise a few miles inland while just a half mile offshore lies a 4,000’ deep ocean trench that connects to one of the deepest place on earth, the Kermadec Trench which has a depth of over 30,000’.
The deep water so close to land around Kaikoura gives rise to rich web of marine life and makes this a great place to see sperm whales, dolphins, fur seals and the great albatross.
Driving along the coast we pull over to take some pictures and notice that we weren’t the only ones to stop off at this rocky point. A group of fur seals are also hanging out, some sunbathing on the shore, while others are playing on the rocks in the crashing surf. The seals don’t seem to mind our presence and even when the kids get a bit too close for my comfort the seals hardly seem to notice.
Making our way back to the car we strike up a conversation with a couple from Hammer Springs who encourage us to take a few minutes to hike back to the Ohau waterfall around the next bend in the road.
We follow their advice we hike inland and up, following a trail along a small stream for about 10 minutes until the sound of crashing water signals that we have almost arrived. Taking the final turn, the canopy of foliage opens up to expose a ten story high waterfall dropping into a dark pool the size of a basketball court sized and in the pool are dozens of frolicking baby seals.
Turns out that the waterfall is nature’s version of a nursery school. While their parents are out taking care of business in the ocean, the young seal pups make their way up the stream to play in the pool under the waterfall. The pups are so full of energy the water is practically alive with their movements and their high pitched barks echo through the forest. There wasn’t an adult seal anywhere to be seen, which wasn’t too surprising because it was hard enough to imagine how the young pups could have walked and swam this far up the hill.
Just as we turn to leave a trio of adventurous pups decide to head our way and check us out. Coming out of the water they climbed over the rocks and walked across the forest floor until they were literally standing at our feet.