Birthday on the Bay of Empty, or, Where my Porpoises at?

Because I have an awesome husband, he arranged a pretty sweet birthday for me, doing one of the things I was most excited about in NZ: swimming with dolphins! There aren’t a ton of operators open this year, but he found one within 1.5 hours of Rotorua in lovely Tauranga.

The early morning drive was beautiful, until the idioticfrustratingunreliable GPS took us 30 minutes past our destination. Where we had no cell service to call the operator and say that we were running late.

Fortunately, we got there before they’d left the dock.

The boat was far from luxurious, but the outspoken salty dog captain made it pretty fun all the same. The day was beautiful and we were told they’d recently been seeing some orcas, a blue whale, and that if we found a pod of dolphins, we could suit up and go for a swim.

We pulled out just after 9.

A few hours later we found a seal.

And then a couple hours later we found some more seals.

Don’t get me wrong, seals are cute, especially when they sun themselves. And it’s very relaxing to spend a day on a boat (I even got a wicked tan… on my nose, which was just about the only part of me exposed for any length of time).

But we were both a little disappointed that there was nary a large sea mammal to be found, let alone swim with. Still, we made more of the day than three SUPER grumpy and grossly-underdressed Australian chicks who pretty much napped and texted the whole day. Seriously girl? You’re gonna wear flip flops on a BOAT when the morning temperature was 4 degrees Celsius? One even said as we were coming back into the harbour, “does this thing go any faster?”.

We partially made up for the distinct lack of dolphins by giving me the thrill of driving on the left for the first time. My driving experiences merit their own post, but let’s just say Duncan might have been white-knuckling a bit.

We got back in time to clean up and hustle our cold butts over to a really nice restaurant my awesome husband found for a birthday dinner – it happened to be close to our holiday park, and had the benefit of being open on a Tuesday night in Spring (all the wineries in the area and other nice restos with favourable reviews being closed).

It appears that June is a popular month for baby-making in NZ (must be the cold weather). We walked into the dining room only to find we were wedged into a table that was basically in a serving lane for a table of 12 that were LOUDLY celebrating a birthday. There was another couple celebrating to our right. And, a table of 20 all set up and waiting. They did move us to another table for two outside of the serving lane, just as the party of 20 burst into the room from the bar, drinks in hand. 

We couldn’t hear our server tell us the specials, and could barely make him out as he answered our questions about the menu – which almost always amounted to “it’s shellfish” (note: one of my annoying eating quirks is that I ABHOR shellfish). Meanwhile, we’re both famished and I still feel like I’m on the boat.

I felt a bit panicked as I realized that I in no way wanted to stay for dinner, but felt REALLY bad rejecting Duncan’s birthday dinner gift.

We sat there for a few minutes, before finally deciding – screw it. Sorry about the dirty water glasses, but we gotta bounce.

We found an Italian place in town that was warm, relaxed and whose food was perfectly hot and filling. Hey, they had wine. As you can see below, wine makes everything better (Duncan was reassured that I was happy with my birthday by the time I started trying to play jug band on the bottle).

And now I’m old.

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