Red Rocks Reserve and seals

There are lots of seal-watching tours around New Zealand, but we decided to organize our own. As Mike said, if we were rich, we would probably be fat as we would be able to afford expensive tours and only travel around in luxury cars/helicopters/boats. Luckily (that’s how we choose to look at it!) we aren’t rich, so we packed a lunch and set off for a bus stop. It took us around 15 minutes to reach Island Bay where we could either catch another bus or start walking along the coastline towards the reserve. As we were walking towards the bus, the wind was quite strong, and the closer we got to the ocean, the stronger it got. Now I know why they always say you should layer in New Zealand – one minute it’s hot so you are stripping down to your t-shirt, and the next minute a cold gust of wind has you putting your cardigan and your jacket back on, with a scarf on top for a good measure.

We chose to walk, and pretty soon I got my first glimpse of the ocean and running up and down the beach and squealing at the sheer beauty of the endless expanse of blue-green water, punctuated by rocks and shiny clumps of kelp.

Now, we read that the best time to spot seals in Red Rocks is from May to August, so we tried not to build our hopes up and consoled each other that event we don`t see any seals, and we probably won’t, at least we will have gone on a nice hike. So imagine my surprise, when only 10 minutes away from the city, I saw a sleek black head swimming in the ocean and started screaming for Mike to take a picture. In the next few seconds, just as the startled man holding a dog leash looked up from the rocks below where I didn`t see him, I realized I was screaming at a black lab, not a seal. Woops!

As we were walking, we were looking at all the houses along the coast and commenting on how nice it must be to live there.

We also saw three separate colonies of birds living together on one beach

After about two hours we reached red rocks which gave the reserve its name.

“The Red Rocks are ancient pillow lava formed 200 million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions. Small amounts of iron oxides give the rocks their distinctive colouring.

Maori folklore tells two stories relating to the colour of the rocks. In one, Kupe – the famous Polynesian explorer – was gathering paua (shellfish) here when one clamped his hand. He bled and stained the rocks red. In the other story, the red is the blood of Kupe’s daughters. Fearing for their father’s safety on a long voyage, they gashed themselves in grief over his absence.” (

By this time we got hungry but the wind… Did I mention the wind? This was the strongest continuous wind we both experienced, and at times it was so strong we could feel it pushing us – luckily, it was blowing in the same direction as we were walking so at least it was pushing us in the right direction. So, having lunch in this wind would have been problematic as sandwiches would have been blown right out of our hands and then we would have had our couscous salad thrown all over us for dessert.  So we walked until we found two rocks which seemed almost deliberately set up for two people to sit with two flat rocks serving as chairs and two tall rocks sheltering us from the wind. The only thing is, the rocks also sheltered us from view, so several people walking past got a bit startled seeing us sitting there.

Another thing that fascinated us was kelp. I saw some seaweed before, and I ate some as part of sushi, but this was something else. Bull kelp and giant kelp can be seen on the surface of water, glistening in the sun and swaying with movement of waves. There is also lots of leathery reddish bull kelp lying around the beach. Mike even had to fight with a kelp bush to free up a stick he wanted to use for walking

The strong wind meant we couldn’t wear hats, and even a scarf I tied around my head was kept being blown off. So my scalp got sunburned, and so did some bits of our faces – we did put sunscreen on, but we wiped it off under our noses so we both have a reddish patch under our noses and around sunglasses.

It was also really interesting to look at all the rocks and shells lying around. It reminded me of a time my family and I went to lake Baikal when I was around 12 and I managed to sneak around 2 kg of rocks in my parents luggage.

“The coastal walk continues on to Sinclair Head, where there is a New Zealand fur seal colony. From May to October the colony is populated by bachelor males who were unsuccessful in their attempts to win the rank of breeding male in the colonies of the South Island. The absence of female seals and their young means this colony is less aggressive than some. However, seals are affected by stress and people are asked to keep a reasonable distance from the young males.”(

This path between two rocks seemed like a portal – into the seal colony territory!

As we walked by the rocks where seals can usually be seen and saw no seals, we tried not to feel too disappointed. After all, according to different sources seals were only there until August or October. Another interesting thing we read is that seals blend in with their surroundings really well, so one way to know they are around is if you feel a strong fishy smell. And that’s exactly what Mike smelled (which later turned out to be a dead seal nearby) as we excitedly started scanning the rocks around until we saw them. Lovely and fat, relaxing on a rock, lazily moving their flippers

I can`t describe how excited we were! This was worth walking 14 kilometers for (7 each way)

We got home around 6, pretty tired but happy. I thought I was too exhausted to go out, but as soon as Ive washed sea salt off of me and had some food, I decided that I was all right after all and went to Southern Cross to meet the lovely ladies I met at a Couchsurfing meeting. We stayed in the garden section of the bar so I was a bit chilly in my cardigan and wrapped up in a blanket the bar was providing for just such occasions. Everybody kept commenting on that, because I am from Siberia so apparently am supposed to be immune to co

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1 Response to Red Rocks Reserve and seals

  1. Pingback: Wildlife central | Travelling to New Zealand

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