All the Grace it Contains: Swimming with Dolphins in Kaikoura

You’re supposed to sing to them, and dance. Slide into the cold water in a thin rubber suit and flap your finned feet until you’re beyond the noise of the people still on the boat. Fit your mask tightly to your face and dive in to the open ocean. Watch the world around you turn a cloudy blue, deeper than you expected or can really imagine. You are over a major oceanic trench that plunges toward the earth’s core, and that kind of depth is beyond imagination, or maybe at the borders of it, where krakens lurk.

Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura, New Zealand

Before the creatures of the deep can fully emerge in your mind, recall the instructions of the skipper to attract the animals you’re here to see: Make high-pitched noises, like singing, and move your body around in circles, like a dance. Be entertaining or they’ll tire of you quickly. This early-morning hour is neither feeding nor sleeping time for them; it is devoted wholly to play, so play with them. So you squeak a few times and wave your arms, and suddenly–it is so sudden you wonder how you could have not seen them before–there are six, seven, eight of them, swimming next to you.

Dusky dolphins glide past you, above you, below you. Your jaw drops and you sputter as the snorkel fills with water. You surface, drain, and dive back down, and you could easily believe that their open mouths mean they’re laughing at you, but you can’t blame them. They’re made for this world, their smooth skin the same blue-gray of the water, their sleek bodies small and flexible in the rough waves of the Pacific. You’re just visiting.

dolphins kaikouraYou hum tunelessly, a high soprano song that seems to entertain. A dolphin moves to your right in a tight circle around you, and you spin with it, making two full circles before you get dizzy and the dolphin swims off, laughing again. Another one immediately swishes up and moves to the left, and you’re off again. Don’t try to get too close, don’t try to touch something this wild and free. They’ll leave if you do.

dolphins kaikouraA dolphin swims directly toward you–you’re staring straight into its eyes as it rushes forward–and leaps to the side just before your noses touch. Grin widely as dolphins wriggle below your feet and barrel-roll near your torso and jump in the air above your head. You are surrounded by dolphins, enveloped in their joyous movement.

Feel entirely calm amid the flurry of activity, as if time hasn’t stopped so much as it has slowed enough for you to appreciate each fin-flick, each shimmer of gray-black skin. You hardly feel your own body, buoyant and smooth in the water. You make no wrong moves here as you do on land. Your body floats easily among the dolphins, in the blue-green-gray water, as if it belonged there, as you have always suspected it might.

dolphins kaikoura

Hum “Ave Maria,” one of the loveliest songs you know and also one with a lot of high notes. You float in what you know to be saltwater, but with Schubert thrumming in your head and evolution’s best moment swimming graceful circles around your swaying body, you could easily believe yourself transported somewhere not of this world, or maybe somewhere that distills the best parts of this world into perfect beauty and peace.

Physically touch your chest to feel your heart beating, to hold to your heart this moment and all the grace it contains. Your body sustains the vibrato of the hymn, your eyes fill with your own saltwater, and it is too much, and it is just enough, and you are sharply conscious of thinking, “I am happy to be alive.”

kaikoura sunrise

13 thoughts on “All the Grace it Contains: Swimming with Dolphins in Kaikoura

  1. This sounds perfect to me. And your description of how you feel in the water rings so true for me – even without the dolphins. But WITH the dolphins…heaven!

  2. That is freaking awesome. Swimming with dolphins is one of those things I realised I would probably not really enjoy and will never do (I don’t really swim, don’t do deep water, and get a bit freaked out by animals no matter how CUTE dolphins are!) so I live vicariously through others.

  3. Pingback: Liebster Award | Stowaway

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