As a lifelong explorer, I’ve been on whale-watching tours before where the anticipation that has built since the booking of my excursion was sadly squashed, only to find nothing in the sea. For many flockers to the Bay of Islands, seeing the dolphins that are native to this piece of paradise is a lifelong dream and first on the bucket list of what to do in Northern New Zealand.
When Fullers Greatsights invited me to check out their esteemed Hole in the Rock and Dolphin Cruise, I was a little apprehensive that it would only be a waste of time. After embarking on the boat, I felt a little encouraged as the captain of our vessel explained the success rate of finding dolphins on their tours was over 80%.
After all, I was on the Dolphin Cruise, right? Surely we would have to find them.
Heading out towards the open ocean, we caught wind from the other boaters in the area that there were possible sightings of orcas. Only four days prior there had been sightings of a grouping and my fellow travellers and I flocked to the rails to see what we could spot.
With baited breath and eyes that refused to blink, we watched to see who would be the first of us to catch a glimpse of the spray of breaching whales. Every wave seemed to be an orca coming up for air, but after searching for more than twenty minutes, we decided to move on with the real focus of our trip which was the dolphins.
Disappointment crept into my hopes of seeing the dolphins, and our ship cascaded by the tip of Cape Brett and the Hole in the Rock. I have heard stories from friends and family of their 8-hour pilgrimage to the old Lighthouse Keepers house, now DOC hut, but hadn’t realized the beauty of it at all. From the seaside I could see how mysterious it was, reminiscent of the eastern maritimes from my homeland, Canada. Perhaps with a little effort and motivation, I’ll make my own way there in the next few years.
As the boat turned, my gaze fell upon Motukokako, or what tourists know best as the Hole in the Rock. Luckily, from my experience with the Bay of Islands Marketing Group, I had previously researched the history of this mysterious little island that can only be walked upon from a helicopter arrival on the top.
In centuries gone by, Maori boys would take their rite of passage to this island to scale the 500ft cliffs for the feathers of the birds that nested that high. When they returned, those feathers would adorn their war cloaks and they would then be accepted as men and as warriors.
Sometimes nature doesn’t have to be the biggest waterfall or the most secret spot. Sometimes it only takes a hole in a rock to inspire your connection to the sea. With the sun in the distance, I couldn’t help but picture those old paintings of sailing ships on wild oceans. I felt like a real sailor.
Just a few minutes after passing through the Hole in the Rock I heard shouts of, “On the left! On the left!”
I gripped the railing and couldn’t believe a playful pod of dolphins had finally decided to come out to us!
I was so excited I simply pressed record on the camera and hoped that what my eyes were seeing in real life was also being caught on film. With all my doubt washed away, I lapped up the reality of the dolphins I was seeing jump out of the water and swimming so close to the boat I could hear and see their blowholes exhaling and inhaling with air.
We followed the dolphins to Bird Rock, where a bob of seals were resting in the sea spray. All in all, we had about 30 minutes with the dolphins, capturing our selfies with them and watching how they played with each other in the waves.
As we returned to Paihia, the sun came out and the seaside scenery lit up with beautiful coves, beaches, and cliffs that plunged into the waves. It was a beautiful way to end a most illuminating experience, one I hope I have the opportunity to do again and again!