Whale Watch Kaikoura

For years now, I’d hoped to get to Kaikoura and go whale watching as it’s famously a great spot for sightings thanks to the huge gaping canyon beneath the waves, just a few miles off the shore. 

Finally, the day arrived and I’d like to say I was primed and ready to go, however, I was still feeling pretty crap following a particularly nasty migraine that had wiped me out for the entire day previous. Cancelling wasn’t an option though, having forked out on eight nights of accommodation, I couldn’t just not go. So, feeling a little fragile, I decided to play it safe and opted for a seasickness tablet. After perusing the EXCELLENT gift shop (cuddly whales galore) and after our safety briefing, it was time to board the whale watching bus that would ferry us to the marina.

We boarded the boat and I quickly scooted into a window seat, not wanting to miss a thing. I’ve been whale watching before, in Iceland, and on that boat we were able to wander about freely the whole time. This boat, Tohora, was very different to the boat I’d been on in Iceland; mainly, it was really fast. We had to sit down until the spotters gave us the signal that there was something to see, and then everyone would rush outside. This boat coasted waves like you wouldn’t believe, seeming to fly at times!

Out in the deep we were treated to the sight of giant albatrosses, dipping and diving all around us. I’m not a big bird fan but I couldn’t deny how impressive they were, the sheer size of the things was incredible. It also meant that for the rest of the day I’d have the song “Albatross” (by Foals) stuck in my head, which I’m not complaining about.

We headed out towards the underwater canyon, a spot that’s famously good for spotting whales as they dive down to the depths in search of giant squid amongst other things. My eyes were firmly fixed on the waters, whilst others enjoyed the commentary given by our crew. It was on the cruise out that I spotted a shark, swimming along just below the surface. I think I was the only one to see it, because no one else spoke up or mentioned it. I couldn’t tell you what kind of shark it was; definitely not a great white (thank goodness, or I’d never be able to swim in NZ again)

The engines slowed and our guide gave us the all clear to go out onto the deck, where all eyes were firmly fixed on the horizon. An air of quiet came over the boat as everyone concentrated on trying to spot something. In the corner of my eye I thought I saw something white in the distance, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I fixed my eyes on the spot and waited, before, WHOOSH! Certain, this time, about what I’d seen I shouted out “fluke!” and pointed to the spot on the horizon. Others had seen it too, and the captain being confident in our sighting, sped towards the spot.

Suddenly there it was, about 50 metres to the left of our boat, we could see a HUGE sperm whale, just floating beneath the surface. To me, sperm whales are some of the weirdest looking creatures I can imagine and thanks to Moby Dick, I think of them as a bit mystical, mythical almost. Our boat was about 18 feet long and the whale was bigger, perhaps 20 feet. As it floated there, still as you like, the waves would gently roll over it’s blowhole and he’d blow out a great shoot of water into the air. This is all stuff I’ve seen time and time again on nature documentaries and such, but to see it with my own eyes, just metres in front of me, was absolutely mind-blowing. 


The whale sat for a while, frequently blowing great shoots of water (the sound of which, I doubt I’ll ever forget) before our crew started to get visibly excited, announcing “ok everyone, get your cameras ready, he’s about to dive” .. The whale dipped beneath the surface before slowly arching it’s tail up and out of the water in a majestic sweeping action that displaced a huge bubble of clear water in it’s wake. With cameras clicking furiously around me, the whale tail reached its vertical position and then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone to depths! Amazing! The boat buzzed with excitement.


The crew encouraged us all to head back to our seats so that we could move on and hopefully find another sperm whale in the area. The sky was a pretty good indicator of which direction to go, as whale watching planes whirred overhead. Just a few minutes later, we came across another sperm whale, again, just happily sat beneath the surface. Apparently we were quite lucky to find two sperm whales with such good temperaments, as often they clear off as soon as they hear a boat approaching. I headed up to the top deck this time, to try get a view of the sheer scale of the whale, though obviously this was a popular spot and almost everyone was up there. I managed to squeeze into a gap on the top railings, just in time to see our second whale arch and flick is tail like the first, as he went for a deep dive. 

I could watch that sight over and over and not get sick of it, it was incredible.

With both the whales we’d seen now deep in the canyon below us, our crew decided that they’d try and track down another kind of whale, perhaps a transient pod, as the area gets lots of visiting breeds passing through on their migration routes. I’d be lying if I said that my mind wasn’t racing with the thought “please be orcas, please be orcas” however, I was already buzzing with so much excitement from the two sperm whales that I’d have been happy to just quit and call it a day. 

As we headed inland, in search of whales and passing a few seals on the way, we were intercepted by a huge pod of dusky dolphins. Dolphins are always going to be a crowd pleaser and the boat was abuzz with glee. I made my way to the front of the boat, where metres ahead of us, these tiny dolphins that are found nowhere else in the world, were treating us to an acrobatic show like no other, jumping higher than I can make you believe- maybe fifteen feet out if the water! It was an incredible sight to see and it felt like they were definitely just showing off!


The pod of maybe 50 dolphins then set their course for our boat, and completely surrounded us as we slowly cruised along. They came so close and I was SO EXCITED, literally gasping every time one jumped out of the water close to where I was positioned. A few common dolphins joined the pod at one point, obviously eager to check out what all the commotion was about. Keen to enjoy the moment for what it was, I absently clicked away at my camera, not really concentrating on what I was doing and surprisingly, the resulting pictures were actually good! 


The dolphins stuck around with us for a good twenty minutes or so before they slowly started to disperse and disappear around us; you’d be amazed how quickly such a big group of dolphins can just disappear.

Smiles all round, it was time to head back to land, though I wished we could have stayed out there all day. It was literally one of the best experiences of my life and I’m so happy that I got to finally do it. Another unforgettable day courtesy of New Zealand, ey.

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