f On the morning of the 17th, we went for a swim in Marlborough Sounds. With a pod of wild bottlenose dolphins. We had booked with Dolphin Watch Ecotours, thinking that the water in Picton would be clearer than elsewhere. Since we drove through Kaikoura in gale-force winds, I think we might have been right. I can't recommend their operation enough. Really low-key, not putting us through the tourist mill, they respect the fact that these are wild animals and it's our privilege to visit with them. They even offset their carbon output through a local landowner - they pointed out the acreage that's tree'd over for them as we cruised by, looking for dolphins. Turns out the dolphins were a bit elusive that day, so we got a very nice cruise of the Malborough Sounds while we looked. We saw a small colony of Australasia Gannets, and some gorgeous coastline before another tour operator gave a courtesy call that the dolphins had been spotted. Once we caught up with the pod (they were moving fast!), we watched them for a while, seeing them play in the bow wave and wake of the boat, and making sure there were no calves, or other reasons we couldn't attempt a swim.
Next thing I know, they've scooted us, dressed in wet suits, fins, snorkles and masks, into the water and told us to swim, sing, twirl, and do whatever to make a spectacle of ourselves so that the dolphins will come investigate and interact. The first time around I just saw a couple of vague shapes passing below me far too fast, and then we were called back to the boat as the pod had left us in the dust. The boat picked us up, caught up to the pod, cruised with them a bit, and dropped us off again. We tried twice more, with better success. The second time, a dolphin poo'd right in my face - three times! The third time, one of them let us swim after him a it before he got bored and scooted off.
It was an amazing experience. When we got back to Picton, we stopped for lunch on the water front, and sampled the area's green-shelled mussels, which were very yummy.
Then we headed west, through the orchards and past Nelson, towards Golden Bay. The sun came our ast we headed "over the hill" to the town of Takaka, which is a very nice bohemian / artist's colony that reminded me of Inverness, near Point Reyes. We stayed at the very comfortable Annie's Nirvana Backpackers, under the care of Miyuki and Alan. The next day we decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and stay in the area. We headed to the springs at PuPu, which despite the name have the clearest water in the world!Then we continued north along the point of land known as Farewell Spit, to a gorgeous beach at Wharariki. The sand was some of the softest I've ever felt, and I very much enjoyed it. Until we started looking for a spot out of the wind to have lunch, and discovered that a bunch of very lazy sea lions had taken all of the sheltered sunny spots. At which point the sand became a very unwelcome addition to my crackers and cheese.
Eventually, we had to hit the road again, and headed for the unremarkable Honeysuckle House in Nelson. We were really sad to leave the area though. The quality of the sunlight was amazing. Since there's no ozone layer, it's really far south, and it's almost the summer solstice, the sun feels like honey, and doesn't set until 9:30 at night!