Thursday 3 February 2011

The mercury was rising

So up, out of the Hotel (after eating far too much for breakfast – why do I do it to myself!), and boarded the buses to the ship, which was alongside at Princes Wharf, just along from the bottom of Queen Street.  At first glance the ship seemed very small, but once onboard it became apparent that whilst small (63m in length) the MV Oceanic Discoverer is actually extremely well laid out and spacious on the inside.  Lovely bar/lounge/presentation room upstairs aft, and spacious dining area aft below.  Nice big windows on both public areas as well, and the cabins seem more than adequate.  The bow is open as well, providing excellent views during calm weather.

So we departed the dock at 1000 hrs and headed out to the west of Rangitoto Island, towards Great Barrier.  As we steamed in overcast but calm conditions we quickly started seeing a few birds, with Buller’s shearwater being the first of the tube-nosed seabirds.  Fluttering and flesh-footed shearwaters came quickly after, with Australasian gannets diving and white-faced storm-petrels not too long afterwards.  The eyes were out for NZ stormie of course, but no luck there.

As we got out a bit further the first Cook’s petrels came past, and then we encountered small numbers on the water as well.  Little Barrier could just be seen through the haze off to the west.  Just before lunch at 1300 we had a small group of about 20+ short-beaked common dolphins come right in to the bow and then disappear off in the wake.

After lunch small groups of kahawai started to be seen breaking the surface of the water, obviously feeding right on the surface.  Associated with many of these groups were fluttering and Buller’s shearwaters and often small groups of white-faced storm-petrels.  The sun gradually cut through the cloud and by mid-afternoon it was a beautiful day with flat calm conditions and only a light breeze.  We did manage a single little shearwater before getting into Great Mercury and our anchorage at Coralie Bay on the eastern side of the island.  We launched the Xplorer, the shallow draft tender they use on this ship and everybody was aboard for a cruise along the coast of the island.  We saw a few pied cormorants, gannets, and red-billed gulls before turning to head into Coralie Bay for a landing.

On the way in I managed to make what will hopefully be my biggest blunder of the cruises...if it gets any bigger it will be embarrassing!  There was a bird that looked (at a distance I might add!) like a brown booby, and before brain stopped mouth, I was getting excited and had identified it for everybody....all over the wireless microphone they have onboard!  In light of the two records for northern New Zealand within the last week or so this was not as stupid as it sounds...except that as we got closer it turned out to be a young pied cormorant with a very strange dark neck and upper breast!  Way to go you plonker...oh well!

Anyway we landed onshore, seeing paradise shelduck, variable oystercatcher, and several flying New Zealand dotterel, amongst other bits and pieces.  A short walk along the beach and then back on the Xplorer, before heading back to the ship, where I blurted out again (before brain could stop mouth!) – DOLPHINS.  It then appeared as if I had been tricked by a cruel wave before a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins luckily appeared again moments later and then came right in and played beside the boat.  They played between us and the ship for 5 minutes or more before heading off.  An excellent first day onboard, and there is still the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail party to go!

So as it happens the cocktail party was excellent, being accompanied by jumping dolphins right beside the ship.  Even sitting at dinner we had dolphins leaping clear of the water, doing flips, and quite blatantly performing what had to be promiscuous acts right there in front of us (knew those big windows in the dining room would come in handy!), literally less than 20m away!  What a day!

Great Mercury
The booby...or was I the booby?!
Right beside the ship!

During the cocktail party
A thrill for them or us?

Against the sun!


From the dinner table!

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