It was the Marlborough Nelson pre-trip on our voyage to New Zealand last November to attend the convention of the Society of American Travel Writers.
The food and wine were over the top. Dolphins and kayaks – another story.
“These are very sturdy kayaks. No one has ever capsized on one of my trips,” our perky kayak guide assured us as we prepared to put the boats in the frigid Pacific. Maladroit Bob and Leah had obviously not been on one of her trips.
We were the retards in the group of six or so kayaks – always way behind the others. He (Bob) kept yelling at me to switch the paddle to the other side, to dig the oar deeper into the water. I must admit, I was not adept with the blasted paddles. And, I was always a bit nervous as I feared we were holding the others back, so I constantly tried to paddle faster and faster which was exhausting and left my arms throbbing. The scenery, however, was stupendous.
We held our own until we had to round a point to get back to shore. The winds were strong, so strong we weren’t moving, even though we were paddling hard. The guide explained how we could use the paddle as a sail – just hold it up and the wind would blow us forward. Bob was screaming at me, “Paddle left, Paddle left.” As I switched to the left, a gust caught the paddle and over we went.
A rude shock. 12 degrees C. ( 54 degrees F.) water is none too pleasant, but I popped right up and out of the kayak. Where was Bob? I was concerned as he does not know how to swim. Fortunately he popped up instantly too. Nonetheless I panicked. My camera, my precious new Canon Rebel? It was in one of those waterproof bags strapped to the boat, but I was devastated, convinced it had drowned.
How to get back in the kayak which had righted itself? The guide, no doubt eating her words, arrived at the scene of disaster and told us to turn the kayak upside down to empty it of water. I refused, certain this would spell death for my camera if in fact it had survived. I told her to help Bob, and that I could swim to shore which did not seem that far off. She was adamant – no way should I swim. So, she gave us instructions and somehow, but with great effort and none too gracefully, we managed to manipulate our soaked and freezing bodies into the boat. Then, she instructed us to pump the water out. We pumped and paddled, but we were trembling with cold and making little progress. Finally another guide came and towed us to shore (farther away than I thought – good I did not swim).
I could not stop shivering, but once on shore I ripped open the bag with the camera. Unbelievable. It was OK. Bob’s expensive sunglasses did vanish to the bottom of the sea. My prescription sunglasses, which I had been wearing, managed to stay on my head. Another miracle.
We had been toId to bring an extra set of clothing. Certain that it would not be required, I only brought a pair of jeans — better than nothing, but more was needed. Others in the group lent us T-shirts and sweaters. Nonetheless, we quivered from the cold for what seemed like ages… (This kayak catastrophe brought back memories of our failed attempt at dancing lessons. There, too, we were the duds in the group. We best stick to bicycling.)
Then there was the boat excursion to swim with dolphins. The lovely creatures were sure to appear, we were told. Those in the group who planned to plunge into the freezing water, this time about 14 degrees C ( 57 degrees F.) , were given wet suits. Bob, not a swimmer, passed on this adventure.
The boat trip was scenic, and eventually we spotted dolphins. The playful creatures followed right alongside the boat, jumping and soaring out of the water at times. Watching them was thrilling. Swimming with them would be even better.
The boat captain maneuvered the craft to get ahead of the dolphins, then we were told to jump in. As dolphins are said to be curious and like humans, they were supposed to come and join us in the water. We were told to make noise, to sing, through the snorkel mouth piece. This would surely attract the dolphins.
Nine bodies swimming around in frigid waters emitting bizarre sounds. It was comical. The wet suit did help, but after awhile, the cold penetrated. We swam and sang, but the dolphins did not show up, so one by one we’d get back on board. This ritual was repeated four different times as the captain tried yet again and again to position the boat where he thought the dolphins would be. And, time after time, we plunged into the icy water for naught.
The dolphins were nearby. Why didn’t they join us? According to one of the guides, they were probably mating, and sex was more exciting than a bunch of crazy humans. Can’t say I blame them.
Not all was amiss on our excursion in the Marlborough and Nelson regions which are at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. Marlborough is the country’s largest wine-growing region, especially known for sauvignon blanc. We visited several beautiful wineries where we tasted and savored some excellent vintages.
We also enjoyed a delicious boat excursion to mussel beds Lunch was on board – a feast of succulent greenshelled mussels, the best I’d ever tasted.
And, we had a delightful overnight stay at the Lochmara Lodge Wildlife Recovery Center. The lodge is accessible only by boat. Hiking trails lead up in the hills above the cluster of buildings, offering super views, as well as interesting outdoor art and sculptures en route. www.lochmaralodge.co.nz
Watch the slide show below for more photos of New Zealand. And, try the recipe for “Two Cheese Spinach and Mushroom Casserole” listed in the column at right. It’s a winner – and easy to prepare.
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