Abundance of marine life – Sperm Whale, Seals and Albatross with Whale Watch Kaikoura
After six months of life and travels in North Island, New Zealand, we finally did an epic campervan South Island roadtrip. Our itinerary for the next 10 days were packed! We started out from Auckland, made our way to Wellington (630km) via first night at Lake Taupo located in between the two. We had a day at Wellington (very cool city) and boarded the InterIslander Ferry there to cross the Cook Straits and get to Picton 3 hours later. The crossing was lovely, you can see the Marlborough Sounds, the water colour is just stunning! We had another 2 hours from there to get to Kaikoura on the east coast of south island. This was one of the first destinations I had looked up when we started planning travels around New Zealand, even though it is not as well known as Milford Sounds in the south island or Rotorua in the north.
For a marine ecologist like myself, what could be better than a destination that has a plethora of marine biodiversity 🙂 rest of the Selims are big fans too! Kaikoura is teeming with marine life both on land and at sea – it has its own residential population of 80 sperm whales. Dusky dolphins are frequently seen here as well as humpback whales, there are a variety of sea birds including the mighty albatross! There are a few NZ seal colonies and we had just recently watched a video of this one place – Ohau waterfalls where the seal pups come in to learn to swim in safety between June and September. Kaikoura is located in the most northern district in the Canterbury region on the east coast of the South Island. In my first post this year I had written about all the things we were looking forward to in New Zealand. I am happy to say I have ticked one of the major ones on this trip thanks to our amazing whale watching expedition with Whale Watch Kaikoura 🙂
Whale Watch Kaikoura is a New Zealand nature-based tourism company both owned and operated by the indigenous Ngati Kuri people of Kaikoura, a Maori sub-tribe of the South Island’s larger Ngai Tahu Tribe. For more information of the history and ethos of this company, see here. They are also big on sustainable tourism and you can here specifically what they have done with their boats and how they operate to minimize their environmental impact. Their tours run everyday of the year, except on Christmas day. Children under 3 years of age are not allowed. The cost for adults is $145 and for children $60. There are three different times during the day that you can go out whale watching and one extra time at 3:30 in the summer months. We went in the morning at 10:30. The entire experience out at sea lasts about 2.5 hours with another half hour of safety procedure and brief bus ride from the Whale Watch Centre to the boats. We were ever so excited that the day was bright, skies were blue, and the scenery of the Kaikoura mountain range just spectacular.
We were recommended to take natural sea sickness medicine which they sold over the counter as the seas were choppy that day. We were then shown a safety video along with pictures of the different species we might see. It was not crowded as I had feared. Whale Watch Kaikoura has a 95% success rate of seeing a sperm whale and if for some reason you don’t, they guarantee an 80% refund. Thankfully we didn’t have to do that 🙂
The crew consisted of three individuals – the skipper, the watcher (the guy who scanned the horizon for whales) and the guide who narrated the whole time during the tour. They were all very friendly. The guide told us lots of interesting and cool facts about sperm whales – the largest toothed predator in the world, how it got it’s name (!), how far it dives down (depth of 3000m) to catch it’s prey – giant squid. He also talked about other whales, sea birds, food cycles, he showed some great videos, the kids were very fascinated. I was trying my best not to get sick, the sea was very choppy, beautiful and blue but oh so very rough 🙁
We stopped several times to scan the horizon and the crew were also communicating with other ships that had spotted a whale. We saw several albatrosses and shearwaters. There was enough space all around the deck and on the upper deck for everyone to stand around and get decent views. It was getting near the end of our tour and then when we almost gave up home, a whale was spotted!
It was a beautiful and magical moment, several moments as the giant of the sea just stayed above the water for a while, before flipping it’s fluke and diving deep down. I was pretty choked up I must say (and also still trying my best not to get sick). We saw three different kind of albatross, but unfortunately I cannot remember the names anymore. Can you tell from this picture which kind it is?
Upon return to land, we went for lunch and were recommended Kaikoura Seafood BBQ stall just next to the seal colony. Food was AMAZING! Crayfish is very famous in this region, but quite expensive at most restaurants. Our platter for 4 people was $50, well worth the money.
And then we ended our day with plenty of seal sighting. Seal pups and adults, all lazing in the sun, some on the paths people walk on to get to the colony! We watched this adorable pup climb up to this rock, struggled quite a bit but eventually got there 🙂 We stayed that night at the most amazing campsite, the best we have been to in all of New Zealand. It was a magical day,Kaikoura is really a very special place and definitely on our top 10 for places to go to in New Zealand. Now need to go back here to see some dusky dolphins and orcas 😀
Disclaimer We were given discounted media passes for our whalwatching trip, but I can honestly say, this was one of the most memorable experiences ever, I would highly recommend this tour to everyone!