Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Adventures in Kiwi-Land - So You Think You Can Swim With Dolphins?

The next morning, we boarded the Kings Dolphin Cruises boat to go out into the Bay of Islands. Jaydn was happy just sitting in the boat waiting--he saw his first two jellyfish.

Although we were set to spend the day on this boat, the main reason why people come on these boat trips is to be able to swim with dolphins. We had been told that there was about a 50/50 chance we would be able to.

Once we were out in the water, we got the word--the dolphins are in the water, and we can swim with them. Everyone was anxious to jump right in, so we got on the wetsuits and got our snorkel gear. The crew put half of us in a large net on the side of the boat. This was to include me, as well as Jessi and Jaydn, but once Jessi and Jaydn had jumped in, Jaydn couldn't handle it. The water was just too cold for him. We grabbed him out of the net and he watched from the boat.

The crew then pulled the boat out further into the water, with about 15 people holding on tightly to the net as water splashed up over them. The water was freezing! Once the dolphins were in range, the boat stopped, and the crew yelled for the people in the net to swim out to the dolphins. There were two rules: no touching, and... now I can't remember the other rule.

Jessi tried to take a picture, but it was too difficult to swim, find the dolphins, and take a picture all at once. Plus, the water was just too murky. She did get within arms length of the dolphins, and even had one swim right under her. But the dolphins really weren't in a super-playful mood.

Everyone in the net then got back up on the boat, and the next group of us--including myself--jumped into the net to swim with the dolphins. I had the camera, and I was determined to take a good picture.

Once the dolphins were within range, everyone yelled, "go, go, go!!!" We sped out of the net at, I'm sure, less than 3 mph, as our bodies were like ice. I swam to the dolphins, and they swam away. I turned to the boat to see where they went, and everyone pointed to the dolphins. We all swam toward them again, and they swam away. Who were we kidding? We couldn't catch them! These were dolphins for crying out loud! All of the sudden, as my body slowly developed ice crystals and my lungs gasped for the brisk air, I couldn't help but start laughing inside. I felt like a dumb tourist who would do anything for a good picture. I thought of the dolphin song at the beginning of the movie "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," when the dolphins sing to the humans before leaving the earth so it can be destroyed:

So long and thanks for all the fish

So sad that it should come to this

We tried to warn you all but oh dear?

You may not share our intellect

Which might explain your disrespect

For all the natural wonders that

grow around you

So long, so long and thanks

for all the fish

Yes, I felt like a stupid human.

And the only picture we got of the dolphins was this one:

So much for keeping up with the greater intelligences. Our next stop was the hole in the rock. Our boat went through the hole and then went on to different islands.

For lunch, we were dropped off on a beach for sunbathing and cold-water snorkeling (sounds fun, huh?). Not your everyday beach, mind you. This beach had sheep farms on its rolling hills. How did sheep get out to this island, you might ask? Maybe we could have caught swimming sheep better than the dolphins. The beach and the island was beautiful--a classic mix of New Zealand and the Pacific. Jaydn enjoyed playing in the sand. He was done with the cold water.

After lunch, we went whale watching because the crew got word that a whale was in the Bay. We drove around with no luck, however. But the hunt was fun.

Finally, at a loss for things to do, the captain suggested we get in the net again and he would speed around the bay really fast, similar to waterskiing, but nothing like waterskiing. Sounds like fun, huh? No one volunteered at first--everyone had a not-too-fond memory of bitter-cold water. But, there were some few, brave, crazy ones of us that decided that that sounded like just the thing to do. Jessi and I jumped back in with four others. What were we thinking?!

Right before we jumped back in, I asked someone to videotape us. I've seen the video, and boy, do we look silly! We move from the front of the large net (shown above) to the back, and all around in between. We went under several times, glugging until we could get our footing again. I tried to stand up and hold on to the sides, but lost it and caught a mouthful of salt water. Then Jessi and I tried to push ourselves up to our feet while the boat was moving at full speed. Jaydn was laughing so hard I thought he'd fall in. So was everyone else. Getting back onboard, I felt like the class clown. But I had fun.

After we came back into harbor, we pulled out on our trek to Rotorua, our next stop on the trip. Swimming with dolphins (or swimming after dolphins) took all our energy, and we were ready for a nice day in a stinky city. We got just that in Rotorua.