Much of the wildlife of the Kaikoura Peninsula lives in the water. This means you have to go offshore to see it, so we booked ourselves onto a whalewatching tour. We equipped ourselves with some “all natural” sea-sickness pills (surprisingly effective) and braced ourselves for a bumpy ride.

Whales (Almost) Guaranteed

Whale Watch Kaikoura reckon that they have a 95% success rate in spotting whales (in fact they are so confident that they offer a partial refund if no whales are sighted!). They say that on an average trip you will see two whales: anything more is a bonus.

We were lucky on two counts. Firstly, with the weather. It was brilliantly sunny with just a little bit of cloud hovering over the coastal mountains, meaning that the boat didn’t toss about too much. And, secondly, because it was not very long before we saw our first whale. Our guide, Ellie, gave us a running commentary as we went. “It’s a sperm whale,” she said. “But it’s a bit lazy and it’s not going to dive for us.”


Sperm whale

A sperm whale prepares to dive

She went on to explain that sperm whales were resident here all through the year but other varieties, including blue whales, visited at other times. Today we would only see sperm whales, and they would all be males (“it’s too cold for the females”). As if on cue, another one appeared and obligingly did a great dive for us, its tail swishing in the air.


Sperm whale at Kaikoura

The tail is the last to disappear

Another whale rose to the surface, and then another. “Look with your eyes as well as the camera,” said Ellie. By the time the fifth whale was sighted I heeded her words, and put the camera away. I was rewarded with a magnificent view of the fluke.

Albatrosses and More

But it is not just whales. According to a local tourist publication, Kaikoura is the best place in the world to see seabirds. Dozens of shearwaters were flying above the surface of the water, then from the corner of my eye I spotted a bird with an enormous wing span. Distracted by the whales, I missed that one but another appeared, bobbing up and down on the water like a farmyard duck. It was a wandering albatross, the first I had ever seen.
A wandering albatross sits on the water

A wandering albatross sits on the water

We came back past Barney’s Rock, where whalers of old kept a lookout for whales. Today it is home to a colony of New Zealand blue seals, and we saw a number of pups playing on the rock.


Blue seal

There is a colony of New Zealand blue seals on Barney’s Rock


The boat made a sudden diversion, then stopped. A pod of splendid black and white dolphins was playing around the boat. They swam, and dived, and flipped, showing off to their audience. They moved too fast for good photographs, so I allowed myself just to enjoy watching them.



The dolphins move too fast to capture their antics!

We had seen five whales, seals, dolphins, albatrosses and shearwaters. All in all, a successful trip!

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