Whale Watching in Kaikoura: A Day Trip

When you meet a tourist visiting New Zealand and they’ve been to Kaikoura, there’s a pretty high chance that they’ve done either the Whale Watch tour, or Swimming with the Dolphins, or both.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Kaikoura over the years but have always considered it to be just for tourists. Last weekend I decided to see what the fuss was about. We booked the 6.45 Whale Watch trip, assuming that it would be less windy at dawn.

Booking the whale watching tour

Whale Watching in Kaikoura

We arrived at the office just near the railway station and as you can see the sea was pretty flat! There is, however, a constant seasickness warning for the whale watching trip, shown on the board at the reception desk.

We paid the fare plus the add on for optional sea sickness tablets and proceeded to the waiting area.

That is where you are shown the 5-minute safety video, which tells you what to do in an emergency. It’s always nice to know there is a plan!

Whale Watching in Kaikoura

We then piled onto the bus for departure to South Bay, an 8-minute drive away to the South Bay Marine where the boats are waiting.

Our local guide on the day, Rangi, is part of the family who set up the Whale Watching Tours in 1987.

Boarding the boat

As we had our two boys with us aged 4 and 5, we were ushered up to the front to board the boat first. They also mentioned on the loudspeaker during the tip for everyone to be careful of the two boys when viewing the whales. We really appreciated the extra effort!

Whale Watching in Kaikoura

Rangi mentioned that the best place to avoid seasickness was at the back of the Whale Watch boat. So, we filed in and went straight to the back.

The boat was nice and clean and complete with plenty of seasickness bags in the front pocket. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come?

Heading out to watch whales

We headed out of South Bay toward the open ocean. The trip was a little bumpy as the announcer informed us about the species of whales we would likely see (Humpback and Sperm whales). They also shared information about the  Hikurangi trench.

Whale Watching in Kaikoura - Listening for Whales

After about 15 minutes we arrived at the first stop, where they put down a listening device to try and pick up the sound of nearby whales. Exciting stuff!

They soon announced that we’d picked up a sound of a nearby whale! Everyone had to go back inside as quickly as possible so the boat could get moving.

On the way, I overheard there is a 95% success rate with seeing whales when you go out on a Kaikoura Whale Watch trip.

After around 5 minutes ride we stopped and everyone piled out onto the lower deck to see their first glimpse of a whale.

Capturing the moment

It’s amazing to see how many people are taking photos with their smartphones rather than DSLR’s. The quality of cameras in iPhones are pretty amazing these days! I do wonder how many smartphones are sitting at the bottom of the ocean off Kaikoura though.

Whale Watching in Kaikoura - A whale dives for the deep
The moment the whale started his descent back down into the deep ocean, which we’d all come to see. 

Despite being a little cloudy from lack of sleep, and a little seasick, the sight of a whale up close was a pretty cool experience and a great connection with nature.

We even got to watch the whale start his dive back to the deep. I tried to capture that iconic moment. As usual, things are harder than they seem on a boat!

That wasn’t all, however. As we were heading back, we made a stop off amongst a massive family of dolphins. This was a real bonus to seeing the whale!

Whale Watching in Kaikoura - a large pod of dolphins are spotted!

Just to top it off, we even saw an albatross gliding around as we cruised back to Kaikoura. Arriving back at around 10.30 am, it was time to catch the bus back to the ‘whale way station’.

I have to say, the Whale Watch trip was a total success, having seen the whale, dolphins and an albatross. That is why this trip is so well known experience for many tourists!

Whether you choose the Whale Watch or Swimming with the Dolphins tour, I believe Kaikoura is a must for anyone visiting the South Island.

Blog post by Adam Hutchinson

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