Fiordland is the largest national park in New Zealand, and it is included on the World Heritage List. Rain is prominent in this remote wilderness, and the temperate forest is pristine and lush. A morning Zodiac cruise through a fiord led us between granite rocks and steep hills entirely covered with endemic vegetation. The tree daisies stood out. It was not difficult to spot wildlife, including New Zealand fur seals, spotted shags, black-backed gulls, and as a bonus, Fiordland crested penguins. The penguins frolicked in the water or stood around on rocks, wondering about us as we visited their homeland. After this very productive show of species, it was time for an expertly prepared lunch, with an exciting variety like usual. Today’s menu was Mexican. In the meantime, the ship repositioned to nearby Observation Point. Captain Cook spent time here on his second voyage to New Zealand. Our afternoon Zodiac excursion led us to explore the spot, which is commemorated with a plaque. Baby forest trees are prolific, and we saw the rimu trees that Captain Cook used to brew beer. In the afternoon, National Geographic photographer Andrew and our own certified instructor Lauren led a photo session. Everyone had a chance to ask the experts how to improve their photos. As the ship moved north through the fiords in between sheltering islands, the sun came out. What a bonus in an area with plenty of rain! Today was another successful day, and we were able to see a lot of “firsts.”
National Geographic Orion
A gorgeous, sunny day on the rocky coast with the rolling hills and stunning snowcapped mountains of Kaikoura. National Geographic Orion was positioned just offshore to allow everyone to hop in a Zodiac and head to town for a tour to see magnificent albatrosses or a whale watching adventure. Many people chose to take in the town before their respective tours and did some shopping and/or tasted the local seafood and real fruit ice cream. Those on the albatross tour went out to the edge of the incredibly deep underwater canyon that offers the correct conditions for a variety of bird species and marine life to thrive. Several types of albatrosses and petrels came close to see if there was anything of interest to eat. The larger whale watching vessel headed out to sea to a different area of the canyon. They saw a sperm whale come up and breathe before returning to the depths to catch the giant squid they enjoy eating. A huge pod of hundreds of dusky dolphins came to interact with the whale boat, much to the delight of the passengers aboard. Local oysters purchased in town were featured at dinner and a talk on plankton rounded out a great day in Kaikoura.