HOME AT FIRST's
BAY OF ISLANDS
New Zealand is
different. In America we build theme parks. To many visitors, New Zealand IS a theme park.
In America, thousands of people each day crowd into Sea World to be entertained as
semi-domesticated dolphins jump through hoops and swim with their trainers. In New
Zealand, you seek out wild dolphin pods and jump in the water to entertain them. This
qualifies as a close encounter of the fourth kind
interaction with beings from
another world in their element.
All photos copyright © HOME AT
— bay of islands
The far northern reaches of New Zealand extend into subtropical climes. Palm and citrus
trees coexist here with the native kauri and Norfolk pine. The thick, humid air is
perfumed with tropical flowers. Unlike other parts of New Zealand, great cumulus-filled
sea skies here remind you youre on an island. Frequent, brief, tropical showers wash
away the dust of the last six hours, keeping
Two oceans nearly touch. But the island is wide enough and hilly enough to ensure
differences between its east and west coasts. Prevailing westerlies drive the weather into
the scalloped beaches of the west (Tasman) coast. The comparatively protected bays and
inlets of the east (South Pacific) coast shelter hundreds of islands in calmer waters.
These are friendly seas to great schools of fish and to fishermen. World record marlin are
caught here, and wonderfully tasty red snapper by the truckload.
The fishers of the seas gather here, too. The
waters are clear, calm and warm, and food is abundant. Among them, pods of dolphins, often
numbering more than a dozen individuals per pod, hunt and play in the sheltered expanse of
the Bay of Islands. Fishing boats from Russell and Paihia and Kerikeri cross paths with
the dolphins most every day. Their skippers radiophone their position to
other sea captains who are searching for the
dolphins. And these skippers gun their water jet catamarans to the spot,
scanning the waters for the dorsal fins, spouts, and breaching of the
dolphins. On board the boats are dozens of people nervously
contemplating the unlikely experience jumping overboard to make contact
with hungry mammals twice as big as they are.
Fullers dolphin boats depart Paihia and Russell at 8AM and 12:30PM noon
(not available May-September) for the
four-hour cruise of the Bay of Islands. Trained, experienced staff prep
passengers of all ages and nationalities for the encounters, which
occur, on average, 9 days out of 10. (Rain-checks or
partial refunds are issued to passengers on cruises that do not
Contact can occur at any time anywhere in the
bay, but usually the dolphins are found on the eastern part of the bay, closer to the open
ocean than to the port towns. The jet boat cruises slowly to the dolphins, but isnt
concerned with injuring the animalsthere are no spinning propellers under the boat.
At first passengers are reluctant to leave,
even in these
friendly, calm, clear
waters dolphins are big animals, wild animals,
toothed animals. So they hang over the sides and lie face-down on the boat decks, watching
the curious dolphins circle and pass under the catamaran. Someone always breaks the
ice maybe a crew member, if the patrons are especially reluctant. Down the rear steps
and splash! Then continued splashing and noise-making: yelling, whistling, singing.
Dolphins are curious, drawn to humans by our uncommon noises, and not by quiet, uninvasive
Dolphins who are hungry and searching for food
end the contact quickly to get on with the job at hand. Other dolphins can remain playful,
and some encounters last an hour or more. Although the dolphins and people swim among one
another, there is little touching
apparently dolphin skin is tender and they avoid
this kind of contact with strange creatures. But they are not necessarily shy. They
clearly permit people to swim among them, because when they tire of the contact they
disappear instantly so strong can they swim.
Fullers guides love their jobs. They are good
to their guests, and teach them safety and reality. Passengers want to know about the
sharks that also fish in the sub-tropical waters of the Bay of Islands. Passengers often
ask about the dolphins protecting them from possible shark attack. The guides quickly
dispel this myth. Dolphins seem not to concern themselves especially with human safety.
There is no apparent inter-mammal loyalty.
There may be at least one instance of
inter-mammal interest, however. The guides have been noticing that dolphins seem to be
interested in pregnant women, and spend more time in their presence than around other
humans. A young woman on a March cruise attracted lots of dolphins each time she entered
the water. She paled when guides told her of the dolphins interest in pregnant
people she was sure she wasnt.
The reality is that New Zealand is NOT a theme
park. It is one of the worlds great exotic travel destinations, to be sure. But it
is also the province of many unique animals and environments. As New Zealand
attracts more visitors it becomes increasingly
concerned with the protection of its fragile ecology.
Swimming with New Zealands wild dolphins
is a much more natural experience than kissing Flipper at Sea World, but it is not
necessarily better for both species. Fullers operates their swim-with-dolphins trips as a
concession leased from New Zealands Department of Conservation
and it must
follow stringent rules of engagement. Fullers crews cooperate fully with scientific
research teams who study dolphins and orcas and other marine animals Fullers observes
daily. And, a percentage of each passenger fare collected goes toward dolphin research.
adding dolphins to your
You can book your Fullers
Dolphin Cruise as part of your Home At
First New Zealand trip. Current prices
are NZ$109/adult (about US$90) and NZ$54.50/kids (about US$45). Fullers provides swim fins,
snorkel & mask, and wetsuits (when necessary).
Fuller's Dolphin Adventure — Swim with the Dolphins half-day
is easily reached from HOME
AT FIRST’s lodgings
NORTHLAND is easily
is easily reached from HOME AT
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