Often I read stories about other bird nerds and how they had found their passion early on, they owned binoculars at the age of 5, and could tell the difference between a parrot and a pigeon before they could write their name. This is not the case with me, although I had a very 'outdoorsy' upbringing, I didn't have a particular interest in birds, or photography. I pursued a career in banking and finance and spent my 20's between work and the mall, which means I have no formal qualifications in photography or wildlife (something I get asked often). When I returned to Marlborough at the end of 2014 I was disconnected, ignorant and pretty indifferent about the incredible country I lived in.
Thankfully, the first friend I made down here was Andy MacDonald https://www.facebook.com/outdoornewsnz who is both an amazing photographer and a true nature lover, his enthusiasm was infectious and over time my interest grew. By mid 2015 I had a decent camera and a trusty 70-200 F4, and for my 31st birthday in Nov that year I shouted myself a pelagic birding trip with Albatross Encounter from Kaikoura. I had to google what 'pelagic' meant, I had never seen an Albatross and I had virtually no experience shooting birds in flight, I was terribly green and it wasn't the seasickness!
My trip out that day was incredible! There were only two other people on the boat, the weather was insanely good, our species list was still one of the best I’ve had and Gary's passion and knowledge just blew me away. I was hooked!
Albatross Encounter is still my go-to for wildlife photography, the Kaikoura trench is easily accessible (you don't need to travel hours just to reach the birds) there is an abundance of seabirds including Kaikoura's special residents - The Hutton’s Shearwaters, and the chances of seeing marine mammals such as dusky dolphins, fur seals and sperm whales make it the perfect location for ocean adventures.
The crew at Encounter Kaikoura are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, friendly and genuinely cool to hang out with. At the moment it's a bit tricky for me to get down to them but in November I'll be driving 7 hours around to spend my birthday with them again, as there is nowhere I would rather be. Whether you are a marine mammal fan, want to see your first Albatross or you're keen to jump in the water with a friendly dusky dolphin, check out Encounter Kaikoura. It was my first, and still is my favourite way to spend time with our amazing big birds.