The beautiful peninsula of Kaikoura on the South Island of New Zealand is known for its marine life and dramatic Southern alps that seems to drop into the ocean. I passed through here quite a few times when first arriving in the country and just had to book a couple of specific trips here. There is so much to see and do in the area; I am looking forward to stopping there again on my next visit to NZ.
I have stopped in Kaikoura a few times for meals when travelling between Christchurch and Blenheim or to meet up with friends on several occasions, but I will focus on my favourite trip to this place. A while ago (when living in New Zealand) I was moving back up to Blenheim, Marlborough with my friend to work on the Vineyards for the winter season and we decided to stop overnight.
For context the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura took us around 3 hours (but can take less) and from Kaikoura to Blenheim was just over 1.5 hours so the one night was enough time to still do a lot provided we got there at a reasonable time. If you are coming to NZ for a holiday or maybe this is the only chance you’ll get to see Kaikoura, I’d recommend staying longer (maybe a few nights) If you like wildlife and a chilled out vibe. But if you (like us on this occasion) are able to arrive by midday and leave in the afternoon or later the next day (this could be a reasonable time frame and a cheaper option to stay just one night).
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We decided to book a whale watching tour from the i-site in Kiakoura. We only booked that day but we were lucky (you may want to do this more in advance especially outside of the winter season). For whale watching you have two options where you are almost certain to see a whale. The first is helicopter tour of the peninsula you will be able to fly above them at a safe distance. The second is a boat tour, this will get you about 50m from them. For these tours they use sonar tracking in partnership with other boats and the helicopters to track where they are. Kaikoura is one of only a few sites in the world where you can see whales so close to land. This is due to the underwater canyon where the depth of the sea floor dramatically drops (if you look at it on google earth you can see the colour change in the sea next to the peninsula). The other places you can see this so close to land include Tonga and California.
When we went on the boat we were expecting it to be cramped, a little boring and that there was a possibility we wouldn’t see anything. However this boat tour was the opposite, it was engaging and educational. They have marine biologists and conservationists working with the tours to educate and often deliver the presentation on the trips. The boat was busy but didn't feel it. They had a reasonable limit on the number of people, allowing people to sit comfortably and get a clear view out of the boat. As we set off on the boat trip, we were informed when we were coming up to what could be a whale and allowed to listen to the sonar on a speaker at times as they explained it. Within 10 minutes of being on the boat we had listened to the safety presentation, the introduction and then were told they had found a sperm whale very close.
For every minute a whale spends above the the surface they will spend around 15 minutes below.
Our first sight was a Sperm Whale, that put on a bit of a show. It spent time in what looked like rolling before pushing up out of the water, then cruised along the surface. After a few minutes of the boat keeping a safe distance but following it, we saw it dive down with its fluke up in the air.
The sheer size, power and grace of these animals is just break taking. We were all in awe and felt so lucky to have witnessed this amazing sight. We were then spoilt further we saw heaps of seals, two blue penguin and 15 minutes later we saw a humpback whale. This viewing was a little more brief but still amazing to watch. My description honestly could not do this experience justice.
We then waiting for a while and soon time on our tour was coming towards the end, so the boat took us to the albatross sanctuary. I have never seen so many Albatross in one place, they were so at ease. What’s more there were some other rocks around the footing of the island and these were covered by seals. You could only just make out that the seals as they were camouflaged into The rocks. Once you noticed them it looked almost as if the seals where sitting in guard.
As we headed back to land, we suddenly started to turn away from the path of travel, the engine kicked in and we started to speed up. Then the engine came to an abrupt stop and the tour guide called us over but didn’t want to use the microphone because there was another sperm whale a bit closer than before because it had also change course towards the direction of the boat (not in a dangerous way but the skipper of the boat was cautious to slow and start turning away) and there we had our last viewing of another whale above the surface (Showing off as I like to call it).
Back at Kaikoura
Once we were back on Land we headed to our accommodation which was a a backpackers hostel (details at the bottom of this article) that also had which had a heated outdoor pool and hot tub, which was ideal for this time of year as it was the beginning of winter.
The next morning I set my alarm to see the Sunrise. I am not sure why I wanted to do this but it was one of those things when travelling you have the time for. Kaikoura did not disappoint (above). I set my alarm and tried to ignore it but could see a glow through our window we had left open. When I peered out to see what the colour was, the sky was like a painting. I had never seen a sunrise like this as have yet to see one as vibrant. I quickly got changed, grabbed my camera (Which was a Kodak bridge camera that at the time. Although reasonable as these pictures above are unedited. It still did not do it justice).
Following this we grabbed some crayfish from Nins Bin. I had passed this food van a few times on the way out of Kaikoura and had to try it. Then we headed up to Oahu waterfall and seal sanctuary. I only got a couple of pictures as I spent most of my time in disbelief at the amount of seal pups there. You can see seals on the rocks along the coastal drive highway, but if you look for a sign and pull over you can take a short walk to a waterfall under a train bridge and find seal pups playing round in the water, where they are safe from predators and the rough seas conditions in winter.
The Tour Operators
Please note I haven’t tried the helicopter whale watch yet, so cannot fully recommend but people in our backpackers loved them. The boat tour above is the one we took.
Dusky Lodge - just a few minute drive north of the main centre of Kaikoura. it has an outdoor heated pool and hot tub (this was where we stayed on this occasion).
Prices £40 per night (approximate based on the time of publishing this blog entry).
Modest Budget Accommodation
Hapuku Lodge and Tree houses - These quirky tree houses are about 15 years old and have become an attraction to go to Kiakoura on their own. The views in these are amazing and the furnishings are all what you’d expect in a 5 star suit with a little added charm. The prices are more high end but if you want a night in luxury on your travels or you have a higher budget I would recommend this. They also host regular events and have a restaurant you could book in for (the food is also delicious) Prices £500 +