Seals and a Gale

Seals and a Gale

Cape Palliser, New Zealand – December 27, 2016

Two days after Christmas, we decided to take Leslie’s mom, Lorraine, to Cape Palliser.  We wanted to show her the Cape Palliser lighthouse.  We also thought the chances were good to see some fur seals.  It takes about two hours to make the 120 km (75 miles) journey.

This was the second trip for Leslie and me.  As a photographer, I am always looking for that “just right” shot.  Even though I made numerous photos of the Cape Palliser lighthouse on our last journey, I was keen to have another go.  The 250 steps up to the lighthouse did not deter me, at least in my mind.

Palliser Bay on the south end of the North Island.

During our drive, I could tell it was windy. When we stopped at the car park at the base of the lighthouse and got out, we knew it was windy. The speed of the wind was a sustained 57 km/h (35 mph) with gusts of 85 km/h (53 mph). After a quick exploration outside the car, Lorraine sought refuge back in the car. Because of the wind, I decided I did not wish to climb the stairs to the lighthouse for more photographs.

Leslie and I remembered during the first visit we saw fur seals near the beach at the lighthouse. Arm-in-arm to survive the wind and to stay upright on the rocks, and we walked to the beach. We hoped to see some seals so we could share them with Lorraine. We found none. Battling the wind, we made it back to the car.

About 500 meters (0.3 miles) down the road, I spied an area of sandy beach.  I stopped and walked toward the ocean, looking for seals.  To my left was a rock that formed a kind of roof.  I heard a noise to my left.  I suddenly spotted a female fur seal lying on the sand under the rock.  I turned around and went back to the car to report.  Leslie and Lorraine got out of the vehicle.  We walked to the other side of the car to begin our walk to the beach.  At this point, the road is gravel and, of course, the beach is sand.  Suddenly, a wind gust hit us.  It nearly knocked us all off our feet.  Coupled with the blast was sand, lots of sand.  I now know what metal feels like when sandblasted in preparation for paint.  As quickly as we could, we all clamored back into the car.  The remainder of the day had us all picking and combing sand out of our hair.  Since we did not make more than one step from the car, Lorraine did not see the seal I spotted.

Continuing west, we drove onto a point. Protected from the wind by rocks, we saw seals in that area on our last visit. We were in luck again. We saw a large herd of seals resting on the rocks near a small inlet. We have all seen seals before in zoos and aquariums. However, something is thrilling about seeing an animal in its natural habitat. I think we all felt a little like David Attenborough. The New Zealand Department of Conservation recommends people get no closer than 20 meters (65 feet) to the seals. Even at that distance, it feels like one is right there with the herd. It is fascinating to stand and observe the seals.

This small inlet near the Cape Palliser lighthouse is a favorite resting point for fur seals.
A herd of fur seals.

When we tired of watching the seals, we got back in the car.  Our original plan was to stop for lunch at the food truck in the small fishing village of Ngawi.  Unfortunately, on our way to Cape Palliser earlier that morning, we noticed the food truck was closed tight.  We adjusted our plan to Featherston.

The Everest Bistro is one of our favorite stops in Featherston, especially since they offer stone-fired pizza.  Unfortunately, we discovered Tuesdays are no pizza days.  We had sandwiches instead.

About 45 minutes after leaving Featherston, we were back home.

A herd of fur seals.
This fur seal must have a sore throat. One can only wonder why…
A fur seal acknowledging her photo is being made.
A fur seal looking back to the ocean.
The fur seals really do blend into their surroundings quite well.
A female fur seal making very uncomfortable looking rock seems almost comfy.
It is hard to understand how this fur seal can possibly nap on such a rocky surface.
A female fur seal “yelling” at an approaching bull to stay away from her part of the rock.
A bull fur seal turning his attention to another female.
A female fur seal makes this rock look like a down pillow.
Something disturbed this female fur seal.
Other than the rock pillow, this fur seal seems to have found the most comfortable place to nap.

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