People often ask me where my favorite places are or what my best experience was while on my round-the-world trip. Let me be honest: I hate those kinds of questions. How can I narrow down 18 months of mind blowingly amazing and diverse experiences into a single sentence?! But the truth is there was one thing I did that actually trumped them all: swimming with wild dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand.
I have long been obsessed with dolphins. I’m no artist but I’m pretty sure I learned how to draw a dolphin before a circle. My entire bedroom as a child was bathed in dolphins: a dolphin lamp, dolphin bedspread, dolphin figurines, and dolphin paintings. You know that scene in Dodgeball when Peter walks into Kate’s house and it’s filled with a disgustingly large quantity of unicorn apparel? That was me with dolphins.
It’s not even that I loved looking at dolphins; I literally wanted to be a dolphin. Throughout my life some semblance of that dream has remained, but since reality is a bitch firm business, the closest I could get to being a dolphin was swimming with them in their natural habitat and pretending I’d sprouted a dorsal fin and been accepted into their pod.
Despite my desperation to interact with dolphins I was always firmly opposed to anything that involved captivity. My dream was to be plopped in the ocean and magically find myself surrounded by dolphins that smiled and clicked at me, like hey buddy! You finally made it to the party!
Although I dreamed, I never imagined that that silly little fantasy of mine could become a reality. Like a full blown dolphins-actually-smiled-and-clicked-at-me-and-played-with-me-in-the-ocean reality. BUT IT DID! My dream literally came true!
At some point during my challenging 5 months of living in New Zealand I learned that there is a place on the South Island renowned for its dolphin encounters. It all sounded too good to be true, but for my last week in New Zealand I decided I’d splurge and hope for the best. I was filled with doubt leading up to it and certain my bad luck would continue, and when our truck broke down on the way to Kaikoura I nodded sadly, thinking it just wasn’t meant to be.
But somehow we still made it to Kaikoura and I arrived at the Dolphin Encounter office at the uncivil hour of 5:00am ready to become an unofficial dolphin.
The boat ride out was stunning. As we watched the fiery orange sun rise from the horizon, dozens of dolphins joined us for the cruise and showed off with their jumps and flips. My biggest regret is that I didn’t bring my nice camera! The boat explored for a while to find the right spot to join a pod of dolphins that live off the coast in predictable areas. When we’d found it, they ordered us to jump in and swim to them!
Dolphins are friendly and curious creatures, so we’d been advised on how to interact with them. The best way to keep dolphins around is to entertain them! You can do this by singing or making noises into your snorkel, so imagine the sound of 40 people humming shrilly through plastic tubes—we all sounded so certifiably insane I couldn’t stop laughing. It also helps to make eye contact with the dolphins and then spin in circles; if you do it just right the dolphin will maintain eye contact and swim in circles around you as you spin!
As I sang and spun like a maniac I cried into my mask—I couldn’t believe this was really happening. Hundreds of dolphins were all around us, zipping in front of, behind, and below us. I spun with several dolphins and got some to stay with me for up to 20 seconds at a time.
Rays of sun sparkled through the turquoise waters and I danced with the dolphins; I was the happiest person on the planet. I felt like a teenager freaking out over seeing their favorite celebrity in concert. When I finished I wanted to cry and gush and flap my arms wildly. But in lieu of alarming everyone, I sipped my hot chocolate and watched the dolphins play along side the boat, wondering how I could be so lucky.
Thanks to Dolphin Encounters Kaikoura for providing an opportunity to interact with wild animals in their natural environment in a way that does not harm or exploit them!