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EXC In-Depth Field Notes: Akaroa, Wellington and Port Chalmers

Our EXC In-Depth Voyage is finally in New Zealand, and our guests are exploring the gorgeous North and South Islands. EXC In-Depth Onboard Naturalist/Zodiac Driver Kristy King sent some Field Notes from Akaroa, Wellington and Port Chalmers. Enjoy this installment, and stay tuned as the ship continues this amazing adventure to Tasmania and Australia.

Akaroa, South Island, New Zealand
Just 75km from the city of Christchurch, Akaroa is a historic French and British settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. The area is known not only for its wildlife but stunning surrounds.

This morning Massdam made her way into the Akaroa harbor under a silky smooth blanket of fog which remained for most of the day. The weather in Aotearoa lived up to its name — ‘the land of the long white cloud’ — its translation from Māori. Many guests made their way to Christchurch to visit places such as the Antarctic Centre and the Canterbury Museum as well as, walking through the CBD to look at remnants of the broken cityscape from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

Mouth of Akaroa Harbour.

Mouth of Akaroa Harbour.

Graffiti in Christchurch.

Graffiti in Christchurch.

Guests who remained in Akaroa braved the conditions and the cooler water for encounters with Australasian or New Zealand Fur Seals (Arctocephalus forsteri), Little Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor) and New Zealand’s only endemic dolphin and the world’s smallest species, the Hectors dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori). The Banks Peninsula is a hotspot for these curious little dolphins, and in 1988 New Zealand’s first marine mammal sanctuary was created around Banks Peninsula to protect this endangered species.

Hectors dolphin

The Hectors dolphins.

Wellington, North Island, New Zealand
In the early hours of the morning Maasdam made her way around the southernmost point of the North Island, Cape Palliser. Cape Palliser is home to the largest breeding population of Australian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) in the North Island.

Pencarrow Light House at Pencarrow Head.

Pencarrow Light House at Pencarrow Head.

Over the course of the day many guests came and went from the vessel as she sat alongside the wharf in Wellington Harbour. Many made use of the beautiful weather heading to Zealandia, the first urban, completely fenced eco-sanctuary, home to many New Zealand endemic bird and plant species.

I spent the morning in The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which is New Zealand’s national museum. Known as Te Papa, or “Our Place”, it opened in 1998 after merging with the National Museum and the National Art Gallery. It is currently home to the exhibition ‘Gallipoli: The scale of our war’ a fantastic exhibition that tells the story of the Gallipoli campaign in World War I through the eyes and words of eight ordinary New Zealanders. A very moving exhibition and well worth the visit to this huge National Museum where entry is free!

Following my morning in the museum I did what every Kiwi does in New Zealand on a beautiful summer’s day and headed to the water. As I made my way along Wellington’s waterfront, laughing and splashing could be heard the length of the walk-way as children young and old climbed up and then shimmied along sections of the wharf to high points before throwing themselves off and into the water!

As we departed Wellington Harbour we headed south into the Cook Strait. The Cook Strait separates the North and South islands of New Zealand, extending northwest to southeast from the Tasman Sea to the South Pacific Ocean. As we altered course to the west toward the Tasman Sea movement was spotted aft of the vessel. Five beaked whales were cruising along at the surface. It was a fantastic end to a great day in New Zealand’s capital.

Beaked whales in Cook Strait.

Beaked whales in Cook Strait.

Port Chalmers, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand

This morning was a great day to be up bright and early with beautiful clear skies gracing our entrance past Taiaroa Head and into Port Chalmers. Port Chalmers is on the north side of Otago Harbour. It is known to Māori as Kōpūtai, and is where local Ngāi Tahu sold the Otago block to the New Zealand Company in 1844. A European town was founded there when Otago was settled in 1848. It was named after Thomas Chalmers, the Free Church of Scotland leader who had died in 1847, the year before Otago was settled.

As Maasdam made her way past Taiaroa Head, Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) could be seen sitting in the tall grasses that lined the headland. Taiaroa Head is a ‘hot spot’ for this particular species of Albatross and the only place it breeds on mainland New Zealand.

Early morning light over the Otago Peninsula on entrance into Port Chalmers, New Zealand. Photo: Kristy King ©

Early morning light over the Otago Peninsula on entrance into Port Chalmers, New Zealand.

Maasdam continued her way toward port and we were greeted by beautiful green-hilled country and small boat sheds lining the waterways.

Boat houses along the waterfront in Port Chalmers, New Zealand. Photo: Kristy King ©

Boat houses along the waterfront in Port Chalmers, New Zealand.

Once ashore, many guests headed into the Dunedin city center which is known as the ‘Octagon’ (an eight-sided plaza with a circular one-way carriageway, bisected by the city’s main street), or joined various tours that were in operation that day.

Many guests had the chance to get close to some of the amazing wildlife that is found here, such as the Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) at the Royal Albatross Centre or the Yellow-Eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) at Penguin Place, home of the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve. I was also in search of wildlife on a kayaking tour which saw our group paddle out towards Taiaroa Head, spotting Pied Cormorants (Phalacrocorax varius), Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor) and Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia), as well as being followed by one very curious New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri).

New Zealand Fur Seal having a snooze along the beach at Taiaroa Head, Port Chalmers, New Zealand. Photo: Kristy King ©

New Zealand Fur Seal having a snooze along the beach at Taiaroa Head, Port Chalmers, New Zealand.

As we left Port Chalmers and Dunedin we past Taiaroa Head for the last time and saw Northern Royal Albatross on the wing. It was a great way to end a beautifully sunny day here in Port Chalmers.

Next up, Maasdam continues to Fiordland National Park and then on to Tasmania and Australia. Our EXC In-Depth team members will be sending more Field Notes along the way! If you’d like to join an EXC In-Depth Voyage, they are scheduled into 2020 so take a look and see where you’d like to explore!

All photos in this post are by Kristy King ©.

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