As we were leaving the Mount and heading for open waters, we passed by the mountain itself and were informed of a few interesting things. I think I mentioned most of the Maori history in the Mount entry, so I'll not repeat it. But at the exit/entrance of the harbor, there is a statue of a Maori warrior there, I guess as a reminder for the history coming from the Mount.
Statue of Maori Warrior with the Mount at the left of the photo
There is another interesting historical story that the skipper anounced to us. (I welcome any corrections from Shani if this is inaccurate somehow). As the South Pacific people were coming to Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) they encountered really rough seas. They traveled in wakas (canoes) seating about 100 people. As they were struggling to survive on the rough seas, they thought they should make a sacrifice to the ocean to appease the roiling seas. They chose an old woman who had lived a good life and threw her overboard.
Today, the rocks you see in the picture below, is called the grandmother rocks, in memory of the sacrifices made to land on the shores of New Zealand. The skipper then asked people to throw ginger snaps at the rocks as a type of sacrifice that would allow us to have a good dolphin watching/swimming day.
Grandmother rocks on the far left (the three rocks)
The Mount shown from the sea
We headed out to the open ocean and I stayed outside the whole time, my eyes peeled and my camera at the ready. And guess what? We saw zero dolphins! I was the 2%. It was really disappointing, but we did see the following:
You see how the water seems to be foaming there? It's called a boil-up. This means that a school of fish have been pushed close to the surface of the water by predators and their movement along the surface create this "boiling" effect. We tried going up to see them, but they quickly dispersed.
So we went home that day, a bit saddened by the lack of dolphins. We did see lots of different type of birds, including the JC bird, or Jesus Christ bird. Guess why they call them that? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
We also saw flying fish. It was such an awesome thing! They have real, dragonfly-style wings and they swam a few inches from the water for a distance of about 5 meters. Apparently they can fly much further than that. Dolphins really like to eat these fish because they are relatively small (dolphins like to eat fish whole) and they are fun to play with (according to the skipper).
I got a voucher to come back another day. This is why I ended up spending two rather than one week in Tauranga.
I went back out on a Wednesday, 4 days later, and that time we saw dolphins! Here's a video of them swimming along the boat.
They were amazing! It was a small pod of about 12, but they hung around for about 30 minutes. Of course, we had to keep up with them, but we did and that was cool. The skipper mentioned that they would be close to a larger pod and that our chances of swimming with them would be better if the pod was about 40-50. We navigated around islands and such for several more hours, but didn't see any more dolphins. So, as a result, I didn't get to swim with them. These are the risks of trying to interact with wild animals. You can never predict the outcome. Lots of people were disappointed, but I was happy that I got to see them at all.
The skipper told us a story of how intelligent dolphins really are. Here it goes... A few years ago, a group of men were out fishing and they accidentally hooked a dolphin by its dorsal fin. Instead of swimming away and causing more damage to its fin (as most animals would do), it swam up to the stern and waited as the fishermen took out the hook from its fin. The dolphin then swam around and leapt up in the air as a sort of salute to the fishermen for taking the hook out and then proceeded to play with them for another half hour or so before swimming away. Pretty cool story, huh?
We also got to see a few blue penguins. I didn't get any pictures of them the first time we went out, but the second time, there was a lone one chilling on the surface of the water and it let us get really close by and I managed to record it. Enjoy!