After three and a half weeks we finally reached our final destination on the South Island: the lovely coastal town of Kaikoura. We’d booked a whale watching trip here months ago, but didn’t realize at the time what a wonderful, laid-back little community we would be spending a few days in. Here you can wander along the stretches of beach and taste the salt in the air, the waves crashing in from the Pacific Ocean (which we were excited to finally see). The vibe is friendly and laid-back and the weather just about perfect. It isn’t particularly warm here, even in summer, but this is the South Island and one has to just accept the temperatures.
I’ll admit I was dubious about seeing whales on our excursion. When we booked, the Whale Watch website promised an 80 per cent refund if the tour doesn’t show us a whale. The marine environment in Kaikoura is supposed to be so nutrient-rich that it attracts some of the world’s most incredible marine life, including dolphins, fur seals, albatrosses and, of course, whales. But these are unpredictable creatures of nature, so how could I be sure that we’d see one?
We arrived at the Whale Watch offices at 9.30am after stopping at the pharmacy in town for some motion sickness tablets. The staff advises passengers about the potential for seasickness at check-in. We were already aware of our unsteady stomachs so we thought we’d come prepared. Just before the tour started we were shown a safety video and then ushered to the bus that would take our group to the boat. Once on board we settled into comfy chairs and the crew told us all about the whales and what we would be seeing that day.
Once we got out on the water it wasn’t long until we saw the first whale, a Giant Sperm Whale. These are massive creatures that can reach 20 metres in length, so all you can really see is the top of the whale breaking the surface of the water and the spray from its spout. They come to the top of the water to feed and store oxygen for several minutes and then dive back down into the water, showing their powerful tails as they descend.
We were told that most tours only see about two whales per tour, but we saw five! On the way back we also saw many sea birds, including the Royal Albatross. These majestic creatures have the largest wingspan of any bird. The only disappointment for me was not seeing any dolphins on our tour, but having never seen whales or an albatross before, I really enjoyed this trip.
In part two we explore a couple of other delights found in Kaikoura.
Have you been on a whale watching expedition? What did you see?