Discover your own tale of tails in Kaikōura. © ChristchurchNZ

Whale watching: close encounters on the water


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.

Explore more...

More stories like this

Find out more


Coastal Kaikōura: magnificent marine life

Dozens of whale species are represented in these waters: most about as close to whale-watching tourists as they can get without actually hitting the beach. Read the story . . . 

Find out more


Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway

Observe seals and seabirds, explore historic pā and whaling sites and enjoy sensational clifftop views of the sea and mountains from this unique walking track. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Food and drink

Eat crayfish in Kaikōura: dine al fresco on this hallmark cuisine

In Māori, kai means food and kōura means crayfish. Right. The water off this cool coast is wild with sealife, including that New Zealand delicacy: crayfish. Read the story . . .