Tuesday 31 January 2017

Mickey Mouse in Porpoise Bay, Catlins

Catch-up, we've been parked up at our personal POP in Winton once again, a bonus two week visit with the family while we waited for the weather to settle.  It's been far from ideal and I think we have had just a couple of sunny and warm days in the last 4 weeks. The wind has been relentless and the rain constant. Summer sure has taken a break in the deep South, but I hear it's been similar elsewhere in the country too. 

We left Winton this morning heading for the interior; this may be the last blog for awhile as I'm not sure if we'll have reception where we're bound. Tonight, we're parked up at the Lumsden NZMCA Park, one of our regular staging posts. And guess what? It's raining again, cats and dogs too.

Now, back to the Catlins.

Porpoise Bay is a surf beach, a beautiful sweeping crescent of golden sand that's not quite as famous as its close neighbour Curio Bay, on the other side of the headland, but well known all the same. As the name suggests, Porpoise Bay is the home of some very cute dolphins. Very cute, extra tiny and highly endangered, Hector's Dolphins, the only endemic dolphin found in NZ. 

A family group of Hector's live and feed in the bay and it's more than likely you'll see them if you spend a little time scanning the waters, especially in the early morning and late afternoon when they tend to move close into shore. The most noticeable feature of the Hectors is their dark round dorsal fin which looks like a Mickey Mouse ear.

Porpoise Bay is a safe swimming and surf beach and the dolphins are quite accustomed to sharing their space with swimmers and surfers. Of course they are just as happy playing and chasing each other in the surf by themselves too.

The dolphins are hard to spot when you're down at beach level, especially if they are out behind the breakers. The carpark near the Curio Bay campground and on the way to the lookout, is an ideal place to stop...

...and scan the waves. And with so many eyes looking, it doesn't take long for someone to let out an excited shout. 

If you're lucky the dolphins, especially the mothers & calves, can sometimes be seen swimming right below the bank in the sheltered corner of the bay. 

This father was helping his sons learn to surf on the small waves that were formed on a small reef just offshore when two Hectors came to visit...

...before moving further along the bay...

...and as word spread that they were in close, people started heading into the waves to swim with them. 

The dolphins had other ideas, and moved even further down the beach...

...to play by themselves. Unfortunately they were just about outside my lens range (and most people's view from the bank)- these shots have been heavily cropped and are a little blurry. But at least I got to see them playing and surfing the waves.

And to finish, a tail stand in their dinner suits! They look really unusual like this (don't forget to click on a photo to enlarge). One day I'll capture them up close, in the meantime I was happy to at least get a few shots of more than just their Mickey Mouse fins. 

See you sometime soon...


  1. Hi Shellie,
    It was lovely to catch up with you and David at Papatowai, albeit briefly. Unfortunately we didn't have any luck with the weather either and packed up and drove home the day after we saw you. Luckily we only live two hours away!
    We had planned to head back down the following week but a detailed look at the forecast changed those plans. Still hoping to head back down there this year, maybe closer to winter when the weather is a little more settled and the camper van population has thinned out a little :)

    1. Hi Lisa, it was great to see you too.....even though you had to chase us along the highway for awhile! That weather is still happening in the Catlins too, in fact in most places down south I hear. I guess this summer is a non-event. Such a pity.

  2. We saw a group of dolphins having their morning swim here during our one night stay at Curio Bay campground. We were rather excited though we only saw their Mickey Mouse fins from afar. I like the tail stand! Wonder whether we will have the luck to meet some dolphins in our upcoming Northland trip. Hope the weather is more settle by then. We have only eight and a half days this time, which seems a bit short for making a leisurely loop to the far north. Perhaps you could help us to focus on some not to be missed places/experience. I'll drop you a mail.

    1. Hi Offstone, the weather has been fantastic in the far north so you should be good to go, a lovely area and time to visit too. You'll see plenty of dolphins, they're not so shy up there and there are hundreds of them unlike the tiny Hectors. Safe travels.


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