Don't call me Ishmael, or anything. In fact, far from an epic obsession filled with heroic deeds, my day of whale watching began in a quite decidedly unheroic manner. Showing up at a place called the Whaleway Station and being herded around like, well, like a bloody tourist got pretty old, pretty quickly.
But once we hit the water, I could feel the buzz of anticipation rising. There is something primal in all of us that draws us to these magnificent creatures. Perhaps not all of us, Amy and the boys had had enough of seasickness so I was despatched on my own.
New Zealand and whaling go way back to the 18th Century and, even after the last whale was taken here in 1964, New Zealand's anti-whaling fervor has become famous. Ironically, as we were heading out of the South Bay Marina, we headed past one of the original whaling stations. As we set out on the Paikea, which is Maori for humpback whale, we were told that there were actually some resident Sperm Whale in the area.
This was an alien concept to me, as I thought all whales were migratory. Apparently there is a deep trench just off the coast of Kaikoura that the whales love and which supplies them with an abundance of nutrients. It's so perfect, in fact, that a bunch of the whales hang out there. Year-round. Which, in turn, is perfect for the whalewatching company. They are so certain that you will spot whales that they offer you a refund for your trip, if you don't. That's a nice touch. Otherwise what's to stop someone's drunken Uncle Bob from saying, "Yeah, sure, I know where the whales are," and then losing three perfectly useful Japanese tourists?
The guide on the boat was talking as much as I am now, and I thought - as you probably do - that she was just stalling and that I was going to hear a lot of fascinating tales about what other tourists had seen in the past. But suddenly there was some excited chatter between the captain and the watcher. A "blow" had been spotted about a mile away. Sit down, we were told, we're going after it.
And there it was. A large Sperm Whale basking on the surface, re-oxyginating after one of its 45 minute dives to the depths. The explosive exhales through the blowhole reminded us not only that whales are mammals, breathing the same air as us, but that this old fellow was pretty out of breath after his exertions. So he just hung out, letting us watch him.
Which we did. Then we were warned that he was about to dive. The whale sank below the surface, only to reappear for one last breath. He humped his back, stuck his head down and up came the fluke for a last wave goodbye. Then he was gone, leaving nothing but the footprint of the flat water in its wake.
Now, I'm not a professional whale watcher (sentence of the day, so far), but I'm not sure if I were that I'd go around naming the whales. After "my" whale had dived, the company started telling us everything about Tiaki. How long he'd been around for, what his eating habits are. Now, I'm not saying they sounded like an over-eager child wanting to impress you with how much better they understand everything than you do, but they did make it sound like they had just taken us out to visit their pet - a large, cuddly poodle, perhaps - rather than going on a primal, soul-satisfying adventure to commune with one of the Creator's masterpieces. I don't like poodles. I'm just saying.