We arrived in Kaikoura early on a very wet, stormy morning hoping to go out on a boat and see (and possibly swim with!) Dusky dolphins. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be as our boat was called off due to the rough weather conditions.
So what were we to do?!
Thankfully we did have a bit of a loose plan in mind. We had heard of a place called Ohau stream just North of Kaikoura from the first episode of David Attenborough’s series Life Story. Every year as many as 3000 New Zealand fur seal pups swim up the small inland stream to a waterfall while their mums go out to sea to feed. Here they play and tussel with each other to build up their strength and agility, skills they will need to catch food and avoid predators such as sharks in the future.
When planning our trip to New Zealand I remember thinking we had to visit the stream and look for kekeno (fur seal in Maori), even though we would be there a bit too early to potentially see the pups. So with our unexpected free time that day we were in a perfect position to explore!
The stream is a twenty minute drive north of Kaikoura, still feeling a little sorry for ourselves we made our way up the coast. As we were getting close to our destination on google maps we saw a sign stating ‘Ohau point lookout’, not being sure whether this is where we were meant to stop we pulled into the busy lay-by just off the single lane road. When we initially stopped we didn’t really know what we were looking for and followed the little foot path down to the lookout to see…
Sitting atop the windswept rocks were lots of fur seals and even more seal pups! They were either lying around on the rocks;
Wrestling under the watchful eye of adults in among the rock pools;
Or cuddled into their mum’s waiting to be fed!
Having been suitably awed and soaked by the rain we headed back to the car. An information board about the seals showed us the actual stream was only just up the road! The info board stated that the best time of year to see the pups play in the stream was mid April to August, given it was mid march we thought maybe this just wasn’t going to be our day. After warming up a bit we carried on to the stream and parked.
As we started to walk the path we rounded a corner away from the car park and looked towards the stream, straight away Elliot started tapping my shoulder. There were two pups splashing out of the water!
RIGHT IN FRONT OF US.
Honestly, while watching the fur seal pups splash and swim around I teared up. Crazy I know but it was magical! Maybe it was because I was feeling emotional from waking up early (hah!) or having the dolphin boat called off but the experience of watching these seals was like something that doesn’t happen in real life.
The walk along the clearly marked path to the waterfall is not very long (only about 15 minutes) but you walk through some beautiful NZ rainforest..
All the way along you can see seal pups playing in parts of the stream and taking a break on the rocks in others very close to you. It is a really special place.
Fur seal populations are recovering in New Zealand and are now described as Least Threatened after being pushed to the edge of extinction by the arrival of Europeans who hunted them for fur and meat.
Honestly visiting this stream was such a highlight of our New Zealand trip. It made a bad day awesome and I’ll never forget the amazing sight of NZ fur seal pups playing. We still can’t quite believe our luck that despite our visit being at least a month earlier than recommended we still managed to see pups at the stream.
1.) Go to New Zealand. Its beautiful!
2.) Kaikoura in particular is an amazing place to see marine life because of the deep water of Kaikoura canyon, part of the Kermadec trench system where cold water from the deep flows in and is pushed up to the surface providing a bounty of food. If you can stay in Kaikoura go see the dusky dolphins or sperm whales by boat trip (I hope you get better weather than us!) New Zealand has an amazing network of I-SITE visitor centres which are so helpful. You can book trips, get local information, find accommodation or just ask the local weather forecast and sometimes get free wifi access.
3.) If you get to Ohau stream please stick to the path. As we walked the path there were soo many people hopping off and trundling through the vegetation/ scaling boulders to get closer to the seals for those *All Important instagram close-ups*. At many points the path runs directly parallel to the stream so you get close enough anyway and where the stream is hidden by vegetation these vulnerable young animals can get some refuge and peace from snapping shutters and cooing onlookers. The site is not staffed so visitors need to treat the animals with the respect they deserve.
We hope you enjoyed these pictures and throwback post to our New Zealand travels!
Our next post should be the Otago peninsula so see you then,
Kirsten & Elliot