New Zealand's hub for whale watching is Kaikoura, located just by the east coast on South Island. You may as well watch whales on the North Island of New Zealand, but Kaikoura is one of the few places worldwide where one has the opportunity to observe sperm whales in their natural habitat. Sperm whales belong to the family of toothed whales and can reach a length of up to 15 m (49 ft). While the endemic sperm whale population can be watched throughout the year, we get orcas in June and July. And in the period between December and March you may take a glance at humpback whales visiting our shores. But not only whales can be spotted here. You may see albatrosses, seals and dolphins being a part of our coastal fauna, too.
Whales, for some reason, are drawn to the unusual underwater world of Kaikoura. The continental shelf is part of an array of steep underwater gorges. Kaikoura's coast is located at the point the warm north stream meets the cold one coming from the south. This way nutrients from deep down are pushed upwards to the water surface. It is a phenomenon all maritime species benefit from, affecting all from the tiniest units of plankton up to huge whales.
There are various possibilities to watch whales. While walking along the beach you may watch whales by using binoculars. There are also special tours offered for whale watching. For those interested, there's also the possibility to watch whales from the air during the so-called Whale Flight.
There is more to Kaikoura than just whale watching. The bay is home to a number of seabirds and lies marvellously placed amidst a stunning landscape. It's worth exploring the entire area! Additionally, you have access to numerous leisure facilities, for instance, swimming with dolphins.
Before European settlers arrived here during the 19th century, this area used to be tribal homeland of the Maori. With Europeans settling here, a whaling station was opened at Kaikoura bay. Up to this very day, a house from those times still stands at this place. It is one of the oldest and best preserved houses in New Zealand and is consequently a listed building.
From the moment the Marine Mammals Protection Act in 1978 was ratified, whaling became illegal. At that time, Kaikoura used to be half fishing village and half farmland. From 1989 onwards things started to change towards eco-tourism, allowing an economical upswing that still prevails.
How to get there
Kaikoura is located on the South Island of New Zealand. From the southern to northern tip of New Zealand you find the State Highway 1 passing Kaikoura.
Coming from the southern direction, you head from Christchurch further north towards Kaikoura.
Coming from the northern direction, from Blenheim on you keep driving southwards.
You may travel to Kaikoura just as well by train. The train station is located along the railway line Main North Line which is used by the TranzCoastal, operating between Picton and Christchurch.
Have a pleasant journey!