Getting Up-Close to the Ocean’s Giants with Whale Watch Kaikoura

Kia ora! Another day in Kaikoura obviously means another day in paradise, evident by yet another stellar sunrise. This time, it’s from the shores alongside Whale Watch Kaikoura‘s base!

A theme for our stay in Kaikoura seems to have been early-morning activities. It’s proven to be not only an awesome way to start the day, but a more dramatic setting to watch the wildlife activity unfold as the morning unfolds. We’re such big believers in early mornings that we kind of awkwardly arrive at Whale Watch Kaikoura 30 minutes before the tour starts. Nevertheless, we watch the sunrise and a lovely check-in lady puts on a marine wildlife documentary in the TV room for us to watch. Although it is really just something to pass the time before the tour, the documentary just gets us more pumped to see some whales!

Boarding the Tohora

6.45am comes around quickly and the TV is now packed with about 45 other travellers keen to see some whales. A simple safety video replaces the documentary on the big screen, then we are following the check-in lady outside to board our buses. It’s just a 10-minute ride down to South Bay Harbour where we board Tohora, a purpose-built whale watching catamaran. Colourful on the outside, Tohora is just as flashy on the inside with bright blue leather seats and large TV screen at the front. It feels more like we have stepped into a luxury cinema than a boat, but because this vessel travels at quite some speed, there is a fair amount of time where it is safer to be sat on our asses.

To make the most of our time making our way far enough out to where the whales like to hang out, a narrator gets on the mic giving us a greeting in te reo Maori, the Maori language. With the aid of visuals on the big screen above him, he explains that although there are many fascinating wildlife species out in Kaikoura’s waters, our main focus will be whales. However, if the team’s watch keeper spots anything interesting, we’ll still stop for a look… And what do ya know!

Starting the day with just another epic sunrise in Kaikoura Starting the day with just another epic sunrise in Kaikoura
Out on the boat, the whale spotter tracks a sperm whale Out on the boat, the whale spotter tracks a sperm whale
Meanwhile, an albatross pays us a visit Meanwhile, an albatross pays us a visit
Tah-dah! Welcome to the whale rainbow show! Tah-dah! Welcome to the whale rainbow show!

Dusky dolphin surprise

The vessel stops and the doors open indicating it is safe to stand and walk around the viewing areas. We have plenty of options with an open-top viewing area, open front, sides and back (all boating terms have been thrown out of the window for all you none-sailors out there to understand, i.e. we don’t know the name of them ourselves and Robin has the excuse that he “doesn’t know them in English”). Anyway, heaps of viewing areas are perfect for viewing heaps of dusky dolphins that have just started splashing around our boat! Dusky dolphins are the most common dolphin seen in Kaikoura, often mingling in pods of 100-1000! We certainly have quite a large number here moving quickly, emerging from the water often for a quick photo-op.

Let’s go see some whales!

We get about 5-10 minutes with the dolphins before we are reminded that we’re on a whale watching cruise so let’s go see some whales!!

Already buzzing about our first wildlife sighting, it’s all chatter inside the Tohora. The narrator announces that we are going to be stopping the boat again, this time to use a sound wave detector to see if and where the sperm whales are in the area. Although almost all the world’s species of whale have been sighted in Kaikoura’s waters, the sperm whale is most commonly seen and, more special, they are here all year round in Kaikoura. As we saw on the documentary and explained by the narrator, sperm whales use sound waves (clicks) created by the spermaceti oil in their heads to communicate with other whales and stun their prey. That’s why the watch keeper and the captain are now going to use a mechanism to detect these sound waves. Meanwhile, we detect magnificent albatross, some of the largest species of seabird in the world, with our cameras!

Scouting for whales and just enjoying the ride

Sperm whale encounter

A whale has been tracked! We get back in our seats and speed off to its possible location. A woman on the row of seats outside screams: “It’s there!” pointing to a mass of spray blowing up into the sky. Everyone goes a bit nuts, not waiting for the narrator to say it is safe, and fumbling out of their seats to take photos.

The captain places the boat right alongside the sperm whale now clearly in sight, its huge brown body slowly emerging to the water’s surface to get oxygen.

The sperm whale stays up for around 10 minutes, giving us passengers a real opportunity to watch, film, photograph or however we want to experience this. Without ever seeing its full body at the same time, it’s hard to comprehend the size of this thing. All we can see is that its dorsal fin is tiny in comparison to its gargantuan back.

The magical diving moment

“Get your cameras ready, he’s about to dive,” the narrator calls. “1… 2… 3!” With that, the huge tail slowly lifts into the air creating a waterfall from its tail along with it. With the mountains in the background and the fluke of the whale in the air, it is the most picture-perfect moment. The on-board photographer, Hayley Baxter, makes sure to capture this moment for everyone. You can see her photos of the whale gracing this very blog post.

Once the ocean giant has dived into the deep, going down to feed for about 45 minutes, it leaves a perfectly circular patch of water behind. This isolated patch is smooth like glass in comparison to the surrounding ripples of the ocean.

Watching the giant sperm whale with our own eyes! Watching the giant sperm whale with our own eyes!
Going in for the dive Going in for the dive
That's what you call a That's what you call a "Fluke Patch"

Onto the next one…

Just as we are getting over the excitement of our first whale spotting, the narrator is telling us to sit down quick because there is another (yes, another!) whale on the horizon and we need to speed off to catch up with it.

Amazing! We are lucky enough to get another astonishing 5-10 minutes with a sperm whale, giving us one hell of a show when it finally does its dive into the deep.

A whaley awesome experience

We came out to see whales in Kaikoura today and whales we did see! Whale Watch Kaikoura really know what their doing when it comes to tracking and giving us the best chance to see these fascinating creatures in their natural environment. Spotting a pod of dusky dolphins and giant albatross was just a bonus!

back to the Dusky Lodge

Back in Kaikoura, the Whale Watch bus takes us back to base where we can then walk back to the Dusky Lodge for another day using their pool, spa pool, and, of course, doing some work on one of their sheltered decking areas.

Join us tomorrow, where we’ll be swimming, yes, swimming, with New Zealand fur seals in their natural environment! See you then!

Laura and Robin

Watching that moment when the whale fluke is revealed!
Watching that moment when the whale fluke is revealed! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Of course you do! For more Kaikoura adventures, check out these:

Until tomorrow’s post, check us out on the HerePin app to meet other travellers in your area. We also post travel tips for New Zealand on Facebook, as well as our adventure on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to find people to travel with, ask us questions and buy/sell.

See you tomorrow!

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