Discover your own tale of tails in Kaikōura. © ChristchurchNZ

Whale watching: close encounters on the water


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It’s all about the shelving. Not that buckled bench in the caravan, but the Hikurangi Trench.

Around 80km off the coast, it’s 3.5km deep, a place where warm and cold currents meet, so it attracts a wealth of deep-sea marine life. Hence, the whales: sperm whales, orca, blue whales and humpback whales. And they have to come up for air, right?

Humpback whale in the silhouette of the sun. #humpbackwhale #kaikoura #whalewatching #nzmustdo #migration #baleenwhale

A post shared by Whale Watch Kaikoura (@whalewatchkaikoura) on Aug 3, 2016 at 1:13pm PDT

Forget the whales for a second. OK, sounds ridic’, right? But picture this: you’re bobbing gently out on the open sea, the prospect of a whale enough to make things pretty exciting. You turn around, and across that gorgeous sea is a strip of land, a few cutesy cribs/cottages, the township of Kaikōura. Then the Seaward Kaikōuras, a rugged range of mountains that keep their snow beyond the winter months. Then, likely, a blue, blue sky. Paradise?

Then, over the side of the boat, a T-shaped miracle. There is no screen-derived, social media switcheroo that equates, dammit comes even close, to the real thing.

You see one of these stupendous creatures come up for air before thumping back down again? You will never forget it. And you will never do anything at all like it.

Those whales are spectacular from above, as well. You can charter just about anything at Kaikōura, dude: the place is kitted out to get you up close, but not too close, to a big fella. A plane, or a chopper, means you’re likely to see the whole beast rather than just a tail, so it ends up being up to you which experience you’d prefer.

A minor word of preparation: this is very much a weather-dependent exercise.

Weather, like the whales, can’t just be dialled up to suit your timetable. Allow a few days in and around the area – it’s not hard, it’s an amazing part of the country – and book yourself in. Avoid disappoint and max your chances of having a good tale of good tails to tell.

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