Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Ohau Seals

One more place I wanted to stop on our way south was Ohau Point to see some of the large colony of New Zealand Fur Seal (Maori name- Kekeno) that resides along this rugged coastline north of Kaikoura.

And in particular the Ohau Stream & waterfall which flows into the ocean at this point. Over the winter months there can sometimes be a few hundred seal pups swimming and playing in the pool below the falls or resting on the rocks & boulders that line the stream. These pups were born in the previous spring and have made their way 700mtrs up the rocky stream, no mean feat in itself, to look after themselves while their mothers are away at sea feeding. This protects them from marauding males and because seals are very social animals it also provides them with support & playmates while they’re on their own. They must return to the coast every few days to feed on their mother’s milk.

Sadly for us the last of the pups have weaned and left the stream to join the colony back on the coast. I knew we would be lucky to see them as it is getting on into early summer now but there have in the past been reports of pups in the pool into December. This will be one place we’ll need to come back to during winter.

We enjoyed watching the antics of some of the seals as they lolled in the sun on the warm rocks.
You can see the bite marks across the back of this big guy.


Males can weight up to 200kgs while the females are considerably smaller at 40-50kgs, we could also see some of the newly weaned pups in amongst the herd. At this time of the year the males are vying for position and establishing their harem. 

This particular guy “owned” the rock pool he was in and he charged & chased any males that approached it. He launch himself off the rocks into the swirling white water time & time again chasing after any seal that even looked like it was going to climb up onto the surrounding rocks. He’d be gone a few minutes and cruise back in on incoming wave & throw himself back up and into the pool again laying on his back waving his flipper in triumphant success and do a few victory rolls while he was at it.
That was until this smaller guy cautiously approached & peered over the edge.

I don’t know why he thought he could succeed where others had failed but he slithered over the top and it was game on!

They battled for well over ten  minutes, whacking heads as they tried to grab each other’s jaw, locking teeth sometimes, taking bites across the back & doing death rolls. At one stage the big guy rolled on & held the other one under water for a time. In the end the little guy gingerly heaved himself out and slithered away. The big guy climbed along the edge & seem to be checking that all his girls were still there, & more importantly, had seen the battle. Most snoozed on in indifference.

Just along from one of the seal colony lookouts was a rookery of Spotted Shags(Parekareka)  & their nearly fully grown chicks. The nests were in some impossible positions, especially the ones down on the recesses of the cliff face & I wonder how the chicks manage to hold on and not slip over the side into the ocean below, especially when they were small. I also wonder how they manage when a storm blows in.

After leaving the seals we made our way south and then inland for 6kms alongside a wide braided river valley full of shingle & boulders washed down from the mountain range that rises steeply off the coast in the area.

The river was low & icy blue indicating that it was coming from the snow melt further inland & probably off Mt Alexander which still had snow on its upper reaches. We were heading to the DOC camp at PuhiPuhi Reserve, a small clearing beside a bush reserve at the junction of two rivers, the PuhiPuhi & the Parapara.

We were the first to arrive at this isolated camp site & I wondered how many, if any, would arrive later in the afternoon & evening. In fact by night fall there were four of us settled in for & then another two vehicles arrived sometime in the night.

With rain threatening & the odd shower passing over we went for an explore up the stony river bed which was very hard going on my tender feet, especially when we crossed the ice cold ‘river’ to check out the narrow opening through the rock face. In a flood the water must roar through this point & I’d hate the thought of getting caught in it.

A steady rain started in the night and continued on into this morning. This is the first rain we have had since leaving Tauranga over six weeks ago & it was especially welcome to wash the dust of the ute & fifth-wheeler, even though David had cleaned it back in Blenheim at the Top10 park. It also gave David a chance to test out his water catching methods & fill our tank & drink containers although we had only just topped up the tank a couple of days ago. Our motto; “Never miss an opportunity to fill, pump or dump”  :)

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