Kaikoura has long been known for the abundance of its wildlife. In early times this meant an profusion of food (the name derives from the Maori words for “food” and “crayfish”), leading to an early Maori settlement on the peninsula.
Centuries of capturing animals and birds for food have taken their toll, and today there are several conservation programmes in Kaikoura. But there is still enough wildlife to make exploring the peninsula a naturalist’s dream.
A Colony of Fur Seals
We started with the seal colony at Point Kean where several fur seals were scattered about the rocks, basking in the sun. In the past seals were heavily hunted, and their numbers diminished, but this colony has become a major breeding site.
A fur seal basking on the rocks at Kaikoura
Most of them seemed to be happy lying on the rocks, or sliding clumsily into the water, but one or two inquisitive males were nosing around the car park. We heeded the warnings that they can become aggressive if disturbed, and kept them at a safe distance!
Early morning at Point Kean: the seals seem to be asleep on the rock
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway curves right around the peninsula, offering plenty of opportunities to spot birds. We had already seen wading birds – including shags and oystercatchers – near the seal colony and set off on the cliff top path in the hope of spotting some more. In the event we didn’t see anything other than a goldfinch in a tree but it was a pleasant walk all the same, with sea views and a walk down to Whaler’s Bay (where whalers of old would keep a look out for their quarry).
A young goldfinch sits in a bush on the cliff top
We passed through the shearwater conservation area. At one time shearwaters were a major source of food for the people who lived on the peninsula, causing a major depletion in their population, but now they are protected. Although we didn’t see any on our evening walk, it is often possible to spot large flocks of shearwater here during the spring and summer (and in fact we did see some off shore the following day). If you are lucky you may also see the blue penguins that frequent these waters.
The Peninsula Walk gives spectacular views. The strangely shaped hill on the left is evidence of early Maori settlement
(Of course much of Kaikoura’s wildlife lives away from the land. I have labelled this post “Part 1”; next week I will talk about what you can see when you go out in a boat.)