If you take the ferry to the South Island, you’ll leave Wellington and arrive in the town of Picton. Picton is relatively small with just 4,330 people. It is one of the Easternmost towns in the South Island. Last summer, we spent three weeks exploring the South Island and of course started in Picton since that’s where the ferry takes you.
We didn’t actually plan to spend time in Picton — no offense to the town but it wasn’t on our radar. But we picked up some brochures on the ferry that advertised swimming with the dolphins. And that sounded awesome, so plans changed. There are a few companies in a few different cities that do dolphin swimming tours in the South Island. We settled on E-Ko tours in Picton. We did a bit of searching online before picking them and liked what we saw — the tour was booked online.
We arrived at E-Ko tours at the appropriate time. They give you wetsuits, snorkels, masks, etc. and do a quick orientation before you get on the boat. On the boat, your job is to help look out for dolphins as the boat drives around the Marlborough Sounds to find them. We drove around for a good hour, checking out the known hot-spots and anxiously looking. At one point, everyone was starting to think this was going to be one of those trips where dolphins just didn’t want to be found and then someone yelled and the boat slowed down and a Hector’s dolphin was spotted which led to another with a calf!
Hector’s dolphins are the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world. And for several reasons (including not wanting to disturb the baby), swimming with them wasn’t an option for us. But we were able to watch them for a while and ooh and aah about how small they were!
After that, we were off on our search again — visiting some bird nesting sites and exploring until another dolphin group was sited. And this time they were Dusky dolphins and our swim was on! The captain told us to suit up and get ready to get in the water so a bit of chaos came on while everyone zipped up their wetsuits, got masks and snorkel in place and prepared to climb in the water.
The boat pulled up in front of where it looked like the dolphins were heading and the captain told us to get in. Crazy suited tourists of all nationalities then climbed down the ladders and did as the orientation folks had told us — laid flat in the water with our heads down and started singing in our snorkels! Apparently the dolphins are attracted to odd noises and singing snorkelers qualifies.
Within just a minute or two of us getting in the water the dolphins found us. They swam between us, under us, and around us. Close enough to where you could feel the water displace as they moved. It was amazing. My partner was laughing and chuckling in his snorkel so loudly that you could hear him through the water.
I of course, being the data geek that I am, had to experiment. I chose to sing Christmas songs as it was that time of year. I determined that Silent Night was just not their thing but Away in a Manger did the trick!
After a few minutes the dolphins tired of us and moved on. So we got back in the boat and tried again. A few minutes later and the captain made the call to prepare and we were back in the water again with another treat of swimming dolphins. This one didn’t last as long but was equally cool and my hypothesis on Away in a Manger held true.
When they tired of us this last time, it was back in the boat with some coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and biscuits (cookies) and back to land we went.