We checked our e-mail at the local Internet café, just to make sure that we didn’t have a message from John and Helen, before moving on. We only had one week now to see the rest of the South Island.

However, we couldn’t leave Kaikoura without going out to look at the whales. So, having done the usual chores, we presented ourselves at the “Whaleway Station” on the outskirts of town to book a trip. Half expecting that all the boat tours would have been booked up for the day, we were delighted to find that there were just two spaces left on the next boat. Fearing sea-sickness, we had a quick bite to eat at ‘Flukes Café’ on the beach.

Armed with cameras (a fresh set of batteries in the digital, and 10 shots or so remaining on the SLR), we were transported to South Bay to board one of two catamarans.

Despite the swell, there was no hint of sea-sickness amongst the passengers, and it didn’t take long before someone sighted a whale’s tell-tale spout. As the boat approached, it dived. But another surfaced a short distance away.

Sperm whales stay on the surface for about 15-20 minutes – and during that time we remained poised with our cameras, ready for that moment when the whale would dive, and reveal the full span of its wondrous tail flukes. At last our Maori guide alerted us that the whale was preparing to dive. Moments later, its back arched and it plunged beneath the surface. There was a momentary ripple of disappointment … then, suddenly, the sight we had been waiting for, as the 16m whale’s tail rose up, and disappeared gracefully beneath the waves.

Once everyone had got all the pictures they wanted, the boat’s skipper took us in towards the shore where, earlier in the day, dolphins had been sighted. Alas, the dolphins had moved on, but we did get to see a lot of basking seals.

We arrived back on shore at about 4pm, and wasted no time getting back on the road. It was raining lightly when we arrived in Reefton, a sleepy mining town about 70kms south-east of the scenic Buller Gorge.