They leap, they spiral, they somersault, and if I lift my masked face I can see the dorsal fin above the translucent water but also the elegant pied curve normally hidden beneath the waves. Singing tunelessly into my snorkel as instructed, my voice falters and my stomach heaves with emotion, profound immersion in a primeval universe, eye contact with a wild dusky dolphin in the open ocean.
New Zealand’s Kaikoura Peninsula suffered a massive tectonic upheaval during the 7.8 earthquake in 2016 that ricocheted up the fractures of the South Island’s northeast, changing the coastal contours and up-thrusting the seabed by as much as two meters. Harbours, jetties, hotels, homes, roads and railways were displaced and damaged, and the reconstruction continues.
The deep ocean trenches and submarine canyons lying off Kaikoura create uniquely sheltered and plankton-rich conditions that attract a wealth of resident and migrant sea life, notably congregations of southern hemisphere dolphins and several species of whales. Colonies of seals honk on the kelp-encrusted rocks, and a variety of albatross, those haunting seabirds with the world’s widest wingspan, skim and wheel close to shore.