There were two things on my do-to list for New Zealand — and both involved animals.
And lucky for me, I was able to accomplish both in one day.
Turns out, watching fur seal pups swim to a waterfall just so happened to be on the way to the other animal I wanted to see, the alpaca.
Let me give you a brief description of both.
The New Zealand fur seals, or Arctocephalus forsteri or kekeno in Māori, are a species of fur seals found on rocky shores throughout mainland New Zealand, the Chatham Islands, the Subantarctic islands, and parts of Australia. There are about 200,000 of them in the world, half of which are in Australia. Unlike sea lions, these fur seals have pointy noses and are smaller in size.
Alpaca is a domesticated species of South American camelid that looks a lot like a small llama. They’re found mostly in the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, Ecuador and northern Chile, often at a very high elevation (even up to 16,000 feet above sea level). They’re prized for their fiber, which is used for making a variety of clothing and textiles.
And I wanted to see both.
First, the fur seals.
On South Highway 1, en route to Christchurch from Picton, there’s a phenomena worth stopping for. During the winter months, fur seals swim up the Ohau Stream from the ocean into a waterfall pool. Sometimes there are hundreds of pups frolicking here!
Of course, I needed to see this!
The drive to Ohau Point Seal Colony in Kaikoura from Picton takes just under two hours. The Ohau Stream Walk is well marked, so finding it wasn’t difficult at all.
We parked in a gravel lot by the ocean and ran across the highway. (There’s also a parking lot right at the trail head on the mauka side of the highway, but parking was easier here.) It’s a quick 10-minute walk to the waterfall, where dozens of seals were swimming and playing. (The waterfall is part of the Ohau Point Fur Seal Sanctuary and is home to an estimated 3,000 seals.)
It was a bit surreal, to see all of these seals playing — and in the wild. I stood on the rocks — you’re not supposed to get too close and I’m pretty sure the water would have been way too cold for me to jump in, anyway — and took it all in. Seals were twisting and turning in the water, wrestling with each other, even jumping from the waterfall into the pool. Just having fun. It was awesome.
After about half an hour of gawking and cooing over these adorable creatures, we hopped back in the car and made our way south to Canterbury, just outside of Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island.
I had booked two nights at the Silverstream Alpaca Farmstay, a charming bed-and-breakfast on a working alpaca farm.
Kit and Sheryl, the couple who own this farm, have been raising alpacas since 2000. They have more than 200 alpaca now in all four colors (white, gray, brown and black).
The farm has two luxurious self-contained cottages that sleep up to five people and include a full kitchen and carport. We even got farm-fresh ingredients such as eggs, bread, butter and bacon for breakfast every night.
Staying here wasn’t cheap — $250NZD a night — but it included a very personal tour of the farm. That, alone, was worth it.
The farm’s primary revenue stream is exporting live animals — meaning, it’s a stud farm — and Kit and Sheryl’s alpaca can be found all over Europe and Asia. And their animals have won every major alpaca show in New Zealand.
If you want to see the best alpaca, this is the place!
Before the formal tour, we got to walk one of the farm’s friendliest alpaca.
Yes, walk! We walked an alpaca!
This female was hand-raised and comfortable about people. She was six years old — alpaca live to about 20 — and was the sweetest thing. I wanted to bring her home!
The actual tour consisted of bottle-feeding baby alpaca, one as young as a week old!
And we learned a lot about these gorgeous animals, too.
Just one full day in the South Island and I ticked off two items on my list.
Now if only I could swim with penguins…
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