Tuesday 24 January 2017

'Monsters' From the Sea- Catlins; Part 2

Catch-up, I was thinking to myself - 'is this a catch-up post or a real time post?'  Because I am usually behind with the posts anyway so how far behind, is behind? So I made an executive decision and 'catch-up' is anything over two weeks old. And then I looked at the photos for this blog and they miss real-time by one day! You can't win.

As I mentioned in the previous post, David, and Peter, one of the other RVers staying at the Hinahina Reserve, were trying their luck fishing from the rock pile when they got the fright of their life when this little rat-bag came racing out of the depths of the channel at them.

And then wouldn't let them get anywhere near the water again as she skillfully ducked and dived along the edge of the murky water, popping up to surprise them as they moved along the rocks...

...growling and mock charging them everytime she emerged from the water.  

You'll remember me telling you about an aggressive leopard seal in the Pounawea Fishing blog. Well, I'm 99% sure this little girl is the aggressive seal the guys saw further down the estuary. 

I had contact with DOC at Owaka and was able to supply them with her tag number and it turns out that she is this female's last year's pup. This sealion is the one I wrote about which was resting on the bush track at Pounawea. She is indeed (as I thought) waiting to give birth and has weaned her last year's pup (our little monster) and set her loose all by herself.

Poor wee thing, no wonder she's mad with the world. She decided she not only owned the rock pile but the boat ramp too. 

It was great to hear from DOC that there were 4 pups born in the Catlins last year and they were all females. Which means they'll all be coming back to the mainland to breed. Great news for the endangered sealion, not so good for holidaymakers at Pounawea. Apparently the female due to pup had already been shooed away from under someone's deck where she'd settled in to give birth.

How cute is that look? 

As cute as she was, she was a feisty little madam; 

I couldn't work out whether she was being aggressive or just wanting some company, especially when she flopped down on the concrete and went to sleep. We all retired to our vans to give her some space and after a time she headed back down the ramp and off down the estuary.

I wanted to re-visit nearby Jacks Bay (after visiting there 3 years ago) to walk to the blowhole again and check for sealions on the beach. We couldn't wait any longer for the weather to fine up so headed there once the rain stopped.

There are expansive and impressive views out over the bay on the walk to the blowhole...

 ...including a view down into a secluded and rugged little cove where we saw Yellow-eyed penguins resting on a rocky ledge the last time we were here. We scanned and checked with our binos but saw none this time.

There were a steady stream of people walking to the blowhole...

...but unfortunately the sea (for once in a blue moon) was calm and the blowhole wasn't playing! We should have come when it was wild just a couple of days before. Can't win.

It's still impressive watching the swell rise and fall as the water's pushed 200 metres inland.

Jack's Bay is a well known place to visit if you're wanting to view sealions, especially if you're on a tight time-frame and only have a day or two to check out the Catlins.

What never fails to amaze me in places like Jacks Bay, is how many visitors, both domestic and foreign tourists, pull up in the carpark, go for a walk, maybe to the blowhole, scan the sign above, look up and down the beach, perhaps walk to the water's edge or a few meters along the sand hoping to see a sealion and then climb back in their vehicles and drive off. Can you see any sealions here?

No, and nor could I but I know they're mostly likely there and a quick scan with my camera on full zoom (my pseudo binos) and I spot a suspicious looking lump of driftwood about a third of the way along and up near the dunes. And way down the end of the beach a further two possible 'logs'. We drive back down the road and stop at the next track, near the first sighting; I can smell sealion before I see it and it looks like he has done the same (although I suspect the smell is coming from the resting areas other sealions have made in the flattened grasses above the beach). 

After taking a few photos I carry on to the end of the bay and sure enough there are more sealions; not two as I saw but 3, all fast asleep in the warm sand. Such cute faces, don't you think?

This is what you miss if you don't know what to look for or don't look hard enough.

After Jack's Bay we drove around to the entrance of the huge Catlins River Estuary, to the Owaka Heads part of what we could see across the water from the Pounawea Holiday Park.

It was very windy and there were dozens of waders sitting out the weather, roosting above the high tide line on the point; Bar-tailed Godwits, South Island Oystercatchers, Royal Spoonbills (bad-hair day), a few noisy Spur-winged Plovers and running around in amongst them all, dozens of tiny Banded Dotterels(no photos they move too fast).

And we spot another two 'monsters from the sea', a very big maned male who didn't look too friendly. He could smell another male but couldn't see him and sure enough as we scanned around the dunes we saw the second one resting further inland. It's quite scary walking through the dunes (as I was doing sneaking up on the birds), they're quite undulating and the grasses are very tall. You don't want to stumble on a sleeping sealion that's for sure. Luckily the 'nest' in the 3rd photo was empty.

The icing on the cake for our awesome nature experiences, and at the top of the 'monster from the sea' candidates, was this huge elephant seal. 

I received a 'hot tip' from the DOC office that an elephant seal had swum into the estuary the night before and hauled itself out of the tide beside the Newhaven boat ramp. We were due to leave Hinahina that morning but not before we raced around to the other side of the estuary to check out the sighting and hope that the seal was still there.

It was still there alright and if you didn't know about it beforehand, you certainly did when you stepped out of the car. Seals and sealions have nothing on the smell that was emanating from this big boy with the kind eyes.

One great big lump of lard with a number of battle scars and a little on the skinny side (according to DOC, he is probably quite old), you have to wonder who designed these guys and what's their purpose, they certainly can't move very well on land. Adult male elephant seals can measure 4-5 metres and weight 3600kg, females weigh a third of this and are 2-3 metres in length.

Here he's stretching out, or maybe relieving pressure?

The Southern Elephant Seal is a rare visitor to mainland New Zealand, their usual range is in the Southern Ocean around the Antarctic and sub-Antrarctic islands.

This is the second elephant seal I've been lucky enough to see; the first one was in Tauranga, 27 years ago, when Humphrey a young male came on a visit and decided to stay for a few months when he fell in love and tried to set home with a herd of dairy cows in Katikati, and where a sculpture of Humphrey now sits beside the stream he used as his private waterway from the ocean to his harem.

Humphrey also spent a few weeks (Christmas shopping?) lolling about at the The Strand carpark and wharf area in downtown Tauranga. My photography has come a wee way since these photos were taken.

Of course the most outstanding feature of the Elephant Seal is the inflatable proboscis, and inflate it certainly does. It's thought to increase the effectiveness of the bull's roar. I don't know about the roar but it certainly increased the snoring. I took a video of him, click to listen! That very loud bird you can hear is a Bellbird/Korimako. If it hadn't of been for the seal I'd have been hunting down the bird to photograph. And I'll not make a videographer anytime soon, excuse the clumsy filming.

Sweet dreams...is that a smile on his face?


  1. What a wonderful experience. The Catlins are still on my to-do list as both times I was in Southland the weather was terrible.

    1. Thanks Carol for your comments, much appreciated. I hate to say it but I'm afraid I'm not too sure it's ever fine for a long stretch of time in the Catlins.


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