After a drive down Route 1 south from Picton, following the coast at times with stunning beaches, we arrived at Kaikoura. For beauty, Kaikoura is right up near the top of the list of places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. A curving beach where the town sits has a backdrop of tall mountains, sometimes covered in snow. The peninsula that extends out from the south end of town from the air looks like a whale's tail and whales are what you can see in Kaikoura. (Photo: Looking back towards Kaikoura from the peninsula)
A deep sea canyon, rich in marine life, lies just a few miles off the coast at Kaikoura. Sperm whales, the largest of the whales with teeth and 4th largest overall, can be seen year round and seven other species can be seen off and on. Because they must come up to reoxygenate every 45-60 minutes, boat tours can usually locate one to three each tour. We took the Whale Watch tour, but you can also see them from the air.
Sperm whales are enormous. They are 45-55 feet long! Their brain is the largest brain of any creature. They can dive as deep as 3,280 feet, eating about a ton of squid and other marine life each day. Only the males live in the canyon off Kaikoura. The females cannot withstand the cold temperatures so live in subtropical waters and raise their calves there. The males come north to breed, then return to the colder waters. When you spot them, you can only see a small portion of the whale unless you are lucky enough to see them breach. The thrill is seeing the tail when they dive.
Our day was overcast and the seas a bit rough. I'm sure our narrator was trying to be helpful and humorous but she went on for a good ten minutes how we might get seasick and what we should and should not do in that case. The man in front of us did not even make it through her talk before getting sick and several others also used their little white paper bags. I think her talking about it so much made it worse! George and I took ginger capsules we got in the gift shop before the boat ride, kept our eyes on the horizon and were fine.
The various tour operators work together to spot whales. The spotter on each boat looks for spouts. Sperm whales stay up 5-10 minutes once they surface. They also use echolocation. Our captain listened through a device to try to pick up clicking noises. Whales can swim very fast so will not surface where they went down. We ended up spotting three sperm whales, watched dusky dophins feed and then ride our wake, and saw an albatross. On the way back, we spotted a penguin perched on a rock.
When I was there ten years ago, it was sunny. Kaikoura is prettier on sunny days but still a neat oceanside community. There are a variety of activities you can do while in Kaikoura. It should definitely be a stop on your travels in New Zealand. We stayed in our campervan at a Top Ten Holiday Park that was within walking distance of town and very nice. Crayfish are popular but expensive. On my last trip I ordered one without realizing they charged "market price." My dinner ended up costing $90! They were about that expensive in Kaikoura, though you could get a half dinner for less. We did find a good bakery/coffee shop. George has gotten hooked on sausage rolls! Jaimie Hall Bruzenak