The Whales of the Kaikoura Peninsula.
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Schedule of the Visit.
- 1A Day in the Kaikoura Peninsula.
- 2Best Place in the World to See Whales.
- 3A Whale, Bigger Than our Boat!
- 4The Gastronomic Specialty of the Peninsula.
- 5A Hike Full of Surprises.
- 6The Secret of the Ohau Stream.
- 7A Perfect Day in the Kaikoura Peninsula.
A Day in the Kaikoura Peninsula.
The Kaikoura Peninsula is located north-east of the New Zealand South Island. Legend says that the god Maui fished the North Island in this region, using the scorpion constellation as a hook.
The snowy mountaintops of the Seaward Kaikoura Range are few kilometers from here This one of the rare places in the world where a photographer can reunite a sea and a mountain range on the same picture.
The small town of 3600 inhabitants hosts millions of travelers every year. The postcard landscape does not explain everything!
Kaikoura is known as the best place in New Zealand to admire sea lions, swim with dolphins (just like in the Bay of Islands), but especially to observe whales!
I will be your guide today. The program that I developed is based on my countless trips in the area.
It's a carefully planned itinerary, conceived to show you the most entertaining and original activities of the region.
The flagship activity will, of course, the 3-hour-long excursion by boat to come close to the peninsula whales.
After what, I have planned a gastronomic experience and a ride around the peninsula. But those who are familiar with Kiwipal, know that I always reserve a good surprise for the end of the trip...
I precise that this trip requires no special equipment at all.
Even walking shoes are not required! You should, however, bring a windbreaker and a warm sweater for the boat, and some snacks and water bottles in your backpack. The departure is set at 7:30 AM, and you should go to bed early the night before, to get a good rest before a long day.
Best Place in the World to See Whales.
You're probably wondering how to explain the presence of whales so close to shore in New Zealand? The answer is given by the bus driver who assures the transportation toward the pier where a boat is waiting for us.
The whales leave their hunting grounds of the Antarctic to reach the subtropical waters of the Pacific Ocean.
They benefit from the Kaikoura Peninsula and its submarine canyon of 1500 m deep!
The encounter between hot and cold currents is pushing the fishes toward the surface, and the whales are coming to eat them. It seems to be the perfect spot for the whales, alas, the proximity to the coast facilitated the work of the whale-hunters, threatening the whole species of extinction in the past century.
Fortunately, the Giant Sperm Whales more usually known as "Whales" are now protected by law.
It is the most widespread whale specie in Kaikoura, but blue, humpback or southern whales (or even fearsome orcas) can also be spotted near the peninsula, depending of the season.
The tension is palpable when boarding, and most passengers rushes to the seats closest to the windows.
You should not follow them and take a seat rather in a center row at the back, where the boat is far more stable.
We head at a brisk pace off the peninsula, and some passengers are already showing signs of seasickness.
The weather channel announced a good day (otherwise the company would have notified us). The staff on board is taking good care of the passengers, and they are very attentive throughout the journey.
Some days, when the wind blows hard, the hollow of the waves can reach 3 meters high!
Don't worry, I was smart enough to purchase some tablets against seasickness at a pharmacy before boarding. I can share it with you if you feel bad!
We are navigating since half an hour on the ocean and you are maybe concerned by the absence of the so highly expected whales...
Don't worry, the staff has an almost sure-fire method to locate them... The captain uses a special underwater microphone to spot the whale songs.
A whale song can reach 230 decibels (the whales use it to stun the other fishes).
Indicatively, the launch of a space shuttle generates only 180 decibels! (if you are not believing me you should check Wikipedia.)
A Whale, Bigger Than our Boat!
The whales spend an average 45 minutes in the depths of the ocean to hunt. They gain the surface only to oxygenate themselves for five to ten minutes. We will observe them during this short pause.
Here is one coming at the starboard side of the ship! The captain shut down the engines and everyone rushes to the upper deck! The whale is only 20 meters from the ship, and we can easily distinguish its back above the waves.
Whales can live for more than 70 years and are recognizable by distinctive marks.
The captain seems to recognize them. They can live more than 70 years and have distinctive signs. Remember to bring binoculars to examine the creature. This an immersive experience, far better than a TV program about whales as good as it may be.
Did you see the whale's water jet that was about two meters high? At first sight, I would say that this whale is at least 16 meters-long, which is almost as much as the size of our boat! But that's not extraordinary, because this is the average whale size in Kaikoura Peninsula and the weight of four elephants!
With 16 meter-long, the whale is almost as large as the ship.
If you have goose bumps, I can assure you: whales do not attack humans... but are able to defend themselves against aggressors!
Read the story of the sinking of the Essex when you'll get back on dry land. This drama has inspired Herman Melville to write his novel Moby-Dick in 1851.
I could tell you what happened to the crew, but this would be quite inappropriate while we are still at sea.
The whale is ready to plunge! Choose burst mode on your camera so you do not miss the gigantic tail, until it disappears beneath the water surface.
We won’t see the same whale again! As I said, these mammals can stay two hours underwater.
We have already spotted another whale, and the spectacle will happen again and again until it's time to go back.
Don't be too sad, a breathtaking surprise is waiting for us on our way back.
Whales share the Kaikoura Peninsula with dusky dolphins. Today they are nearly one hundred, but they are sometimes more than the double to escort the ship during the return journey. These dolphins are 1.70 m long, and they love to perform some spectacular stunts. After so many emotions, it is a pleasure for us to be on dry land again. We will take the car to reach our next activity, but a short walk will help us to regain your minds first.
Swimming with dolphins is a very popular activity at Kaikoura and this subject is covered in detail in a dedicated guide on Kiwipal.
The Gastronomic Specialty of the Peninsula.
The Maoris lived in the peninsula 800 years ago to hunt the moa, a giant ostrich of 3 m and then they clashed among themselves to gain control of the region.
When Westerners have landed in the 18th century, they discovered the ruins of 14Maori fortified villages on the hilltops.
Today, Kaikoura is just a tourist city without any special charm. You'll find motels alongside some interesting curiosities like the colorful wooden carved Pouwhenua at the entrance of the South Bay. It represents Maui fishing the House of Tangaroa, the god of the sea.
This walk should dispel the agitation of the sea trip, and whet the appetite. This is the ideal time to reveal you the origins of the city name.
The explorer Tamaki-te-rangi was searching his three wives who ran away from his house. The legend says that he made a stop in the peninsula to eat lobsters.
The word Kaikoura meaning “lobster meal” in the Maori language, and this is also the specialty of the region.
Lately, I had been criticized by some readers for being too focused on meat restaurants.
This time, we'll discover a seafood restaurant on Fyffe Quay. You are not dreaming, we are going to lunch in this tiny stand outdoors. It's a little secret I want to share with you.
Kaikoura Seafood BBQ is located right next to the beach and the fields of sheep.
With such a panorama, we forgive him readily his few chairs and plastic tables in the shade of umbrellas. I have the feeling that you are not convinced yet, but trust me!
This is a gourmet address! You can taste lobsters at $50, which is half the price you would pay in the best restaurants.
Saint-Jacques, mussels, garlic shrimp (everything was fished the same day) are grilled to preserve their delicate flavor.
It is known that even some Allblacks players come here to eat lobsters.
Let’s cross our fingers altogether, hoping that this good address won't sell its soul to the devil, and will continue to serve such quality food at such low price. In the meantime, enjoy your feast under the great blue sky. Once you feel rested, we will go on an adventure in the Kaikoura Peninsula.
A Hike Full of Surprises.
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a 3 h easy walk around the peninsula which follows a track along cliffs and beaches. It is one of the most beautiful walks in the country.
At Point Kean car park, it sometimes happens that an embarrassed tourist has to wake up a 250 kg fur seal asleep in front of his car.
The males are usually placid but they can become aggressive when disturbed... Keep a safe distance of about 10 meters.
Many seals rest on the warm rocks, and some blue penguins come back from the beach after their bath.
The trail includes a climb to an observation deck in the form of waka (a boat in Maori). The panorama combines green hills, the deep blue of the ocean, and a mountain range covered by eternal snows. One feels transported to the Lord of the rings.
Large panels provide information about the history of the region, geology and animals living along the coast. This part of the peninsula was once covered with forests. Then we will explore Whalers Bay along the cliffs carved by erosion.
A wooden staircase leads to the beach of the whale-hunters where the tide sometimes reveals giant whale bones buried in the sand. But it is the “Sugarloaf” you should see first. This strange rock formation carved by the ocean and the wind for thousands of years is famous in New Zealand.
The seal colony which lies just beside can be located by its strong smell. I often asked myself how these creatures can release such “perfume” while spending their life taking baths. Less fragrant, but much louder, the huge assembly of red-billed gulls recalls a famous movie by Alfred Hitchcock.
This is not the only bird specie in the region, we will find many others along the path to South Bay. You can photograph albatrosses and Hutton's shearwater who fish off the coast, before returning to their nests in the mountains.
We just need to follow the signs toward Tom's Track to return to the car. It is 4:30 PM and we should reach Christchurch early in the evening. But we are not leaving right now because I promised you a surprise before the end of the trip and I always keep my promises.
The Secret of the Ohau Stream.
Christchurch is in the South, but we'll make a detour to the north of Kaikoura. I'll park the car near the sign “Ohau Stream” and the rest of the trip will be on foot.
The trail begins under a railway track and runs along a creek in the forest. Ten minutes later, the sound of water and strange noises are heard behind the bushes! The Ohau stream, which some people call “the nursery”, is my great surprise for you guys!
Baby fur seals enjoy a large pool of freshwater to play and learn to dive. The ideal is to come in September when the fur seal babies are more than a hundred. In summer, they are still about thirty to take advantage of this little paradise.
Able to reach 380 m in depth underwater for more than 15 minutes snorkeling, these seals have a double fur and can live up to 17 years. It is a delight to see them swimming and jumping out of the water! I can teach you how to easily distinguish males from females. These gentlemen are twice bigger and their vocalizations differ significantly.
Don't worry, most of the fur seals are completely indifferent to our presence.
But some may be surprised of the attention we’re giving to them, as if their behavior was usual. By the way, if you find a free rock to sit down, you should not miss the opportunity.
Don't be afraid! Some baby seals are friendly and wish to sniff your feet out of curiosity.
Do not try to pet this cute animal, because it usually doesn't appreciate being touched. Some tourists are bitten each year because they confuse the place with a circus...
Even with their large cute eyes, and their docile tune, fur seals are still wild animals. You should never stand between a seal and the sea where they could flee in case of danger. Avoid any abrupt moves and everything will be fine. Fur seals have much more to fear from us than the contrary.
The hunters almost exterminated these poor beasts during the 19th century. The species is fortunately protected since 1978, and you are already lucky to be so close of fur seals. But it's time to go! Many other wonders await us in New Zealand.
It seems that the waterfall was destroyed during the earthquake of 2017. We have not yet had time to check .. and meanwhile it is better not to come on site
A Perfect Day in the Kaikoura Peninsula.
Your friends might not believe you when you’ll tell the story of your journey to New Zealand. Did you believe before coming that it was possible to see hundreds of dolphins, fur seal colonies and even whales during the very same day!
Kaikoura is visited by travelers from all over the world, so remember to book your tickets in advance if you want to see whales. This advice is even more valid during the October Seafest festival, where the city is crowded by tourists who come to taste lobsters.
Another good advice to follow is to book the first whale excursion of the day, because there is less wind on the sea, and therefore fewer big waves.
And the dolphins are known to be more active between six and nine o'clock in the morning. However, there is also an advantage to book a later tour: the previous excursions gave to the captain an opportunity to track the whale’s position, which increases the chances to admire more of these giant creatures.
Are you prone to seasickness? The question should be considered before boarding on a long cruise. The ocean is often waved at Kaikoura, and the weather can change suddenly. After the article, our friend Ben the Kiwi will give you some practical tips on this matter.
Did you know that you can also fly by helicopter over Kaikoura's whales?
In contrast to boat trips, booking a flying tour allows to admire these creatures with far more details and without seasickness. This is the best approach, but it is sadly twice more expensive! Today, the whalers have swapped the harpoon for the camera.
If you succeed in taking the picture of your life time, we will be happy to publish the pictures of your New Zealand trip on Kiwipal.
Questions & Answers.
What can I do for you? I answer so many questions about seasickness! You can trust me or not, but I can assure you that the main factor of seasickness is the lack of sleep the day before.
- All topics ... 35 answers in total
- Activities and Other Excursions 8 answers
- Prevent Seasickness 8 answers
- Whale Watching 5 answers
- Accommodation and Restaurants 4 answers
- Culture, Museums and Festivals 4 answers
- Practical Information 3 answers
- Transports 2 answers
- Weather Forecast of the Peninsula 1 answer
Activities and Other Excursions
- Where to find a map of Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway?
The Department of Conservation distributes this card to Kaikoura's i-Site:Kaikoura Walkway itinerary
- Can we go swimming with the dolphins?
Dolphin Encounter offers a tour where you can swim with the dusky dolphins. The welcome point is at number 96 of The Esplanade in Kaikoura. Count $165 per person and $80 if you just want to watch without swimming. Combination, masks and snorkels are provided, just bring your swimsuit and a towel. Departures take place at 8:30 am and 12:30 pm throughout the year with an additional schedule at 5:30 pm in the summer.Dolphin Encounter
- Can we go swimming with fur seals?
Topspot Deal Swim propose cette activité pour $80 par personne. Les otaries sont encore plus curieuses que les dauphins. Rendez-vous au 22 Deal Street ou consultez le site officiel :Top Spot Seals Swim
- How do we know if we're dealing with a sea lion or a fur seal?
The two species resemble each other, but there are two infallible ways to differentiate them. The sea lion has external ears whereas they are internal to the seal. And the sea lion is able to raise its torso by resting on the ground, while the seal is incapable of it.
- Can we book kayak tours?
Kaikoura Kayaks offers a guided tour to observe the sea lions. Go to 19 Killarney St to begin the adventure. The rate is approximately $85 per person, with departures at 8:30 am, 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm from November to April, and 9 am and 1 pm from May to October.Kaikoura Kayak tours
- Are there any surf spots in Kaikoura?
Go to Mangamaunu Beach, 5 km north of Kaikoura. Board Silly Surf Adventure rents boards and train beginners.
- Can we rent bicycles?
R & R Sport rents bicycles at 14 West End.
- Is it true that you can ski in the area?
Yes, the resort of Mount Lyford is one hour from the city (about 60 km). This is the newest and smallest in the country.
- How do we explain sea sickness?
The roll and pitch of the boat transmit contradictory signals to the inner ear that affect the sense of balance.
- Who will suffer of seasickness?
We are not all equal to this phenomenon, which most often affects children, women and the elderly. But everyone can be subject to it, including professional sailors!
- How to prevent seasickness?
Tiredness increases the symptoms tenfold. Sleep early the day before, avoid alcohol and tobacco and cover yourself well on board. Do not board the empty belly, but eat more lightly than usual by drinking sparkling water. Reading or playing video games on a smartphone are to be avoided.
- How to deal with seasickness?
Do not let the seasickness taking the control, try to stay awake, calm and determined. Chew a chewing gum with chlorophyll and have some fresh air at the first signs. Watch the horizon or the coast but not on the ship's wake! Avoid looking all the time around you, this increases the signals transmitted to your inner ear which is already having trouble to decrypt what is happening.
- How to reduce seasickness? If nothing works?
Stay active, talk to your neighbors, listen to music. Disturbances are greater at the beginning of the journey and tend to diminish over time.
- Are there any treatments for seasickness?
Your doctor may prescribe effective medications that may cause drowsiness. Be careful if you have to drive before or after!
- Would you recommend the bracelets against seasickness?
Some swear only by the "sea bands" but in my humble opinion it's just placebo.
- What should I do if I am not feeling well on board?
Try to take a little fresh air, and if that does not work, you always have the option of going to the toilet on board.
- How to organize the whale excursion?
Visit the Whale Watch Kaikoura website where 10% discounts are sometimes offered. The same company manages the exits by plane or by helicopter. Schedules and online booking are shown.Kaikoura Whale Watching
- What are the chances of observing whales?
Kaikoura Whale Watch is a Maori company that guarantees whale watching at 95%. If no whales can be seen, the company reimburses 80% of the tour. Whales move in groups and during my last trip, I was lucky enough to see seven whales in less than two hours!
- How much does a boat, plane or helicopter tour cost?
The easiest way is to check the official website. As an indication, count $145 per adult and $80 per child for the 3-hour cruise.Whale Watch
- Are there other companies that organize excursions?
Kaikoura Whale Watch holds the monopoly of this activity.
- How do sperm whales feed?
The sperm whale is the largest toothed whale in the world and the largest predator at the same time. Unlike other species, it does not feed on plankton, but attacks the fish, squid and even the giant squid from the depths.
Accommodation and Restaurants
- Can you recommend me accommodations in Kaikoura?
I have tested and enjoyed "Kaikoura Cottages Motels and Waves" on the Esplanade.Kaikoura accommodation
- How to pay the bill at the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ?
Only by cash.
- Do you have another restaurant to suggest?
Push the door of the "Green Dolphin Restaurant & Bar" at 12 Avoca St. You'll taste fresh local produce, such as lobsters, but also meats. The menu is very small (often a guarantee of quality) and the setting is romantic.
- Are there supermarkets on site?
There is a Four Square at 31 Westend, and a New World at the north of the town on Beach Rd (open from 8am to 9pm)
Culture, Museums and Festivals
- How to get more information about the Seafest?
Check the official website:Sea Fest
- What works of art are exhibited at the Kaikoura District Museum?
This small museum offers an exhibition on colonization, Maori and the whaling industry of the past. The gallery of portraits with severe faces reveal the harsh climate of the region. But it is the fossils of mauisaurus, a giant aquatic dinosaur, that deserve the detour.
- What is the point of visiting the Fyffe House?
You will probably spot this pink house that borders an alley of the Garden of Memories. It is the only building that survived from the early settlers. The foundations date back to 1842 and are made of whale bones.
- Do you recommend visiting Maori Leap Cave?
Discovered in 1958, this cave dug by the sea contains stalagmites and stalactites. Located 3 km south of the city, it is the subject of a guided tour of 40 minutes. It's interesting, but this does not approach the quality of the Waitomo caves.
- How to find the Kaikoura iSite?
The reception is located near the railway station at Whaleway Station Road north of the city.
- Are there any banks or ATM in Kaikoura?
You can withdraw money from the Westpac and BNZ banks. They are open from 9 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays and closed on weekends.
- How to get more information about Kaikoura?
Check the official website of the city:Kaikoura official website
- Can we reach Kaikoura by bus?
- Can we come to Kaikoura by train?
The Tranzcoastal of Tranz Scenic runs daily between Picton and Christchurch and makes a stop in the peninsula.Tranz Scenic
Weather Forecast of the Peninsula
- Is the weather hot in Kaikoura?
Approximately 20 ° C on average in summer and 10 ° C in winter.
On the Country Map
The Kaikoura peninsula is located on the eastern coast of the South Island.
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