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Marine Wildlife Encounters
IN or ON THE SEA
The combination of the contours of the deep Hikurangi Trench rapidly ascending to the Kaikoura coastline, water temperature and ocean currents make the water nutrient rich. This encourages a food chain in which the whale is nowadays at the top – at least around these parts. Sixty foot long and weighing 50 tons, the Giant Sperm Whale is an all year round visitor to Kaikoura. Other whale species also pass through on their migratory routes.
With the whales often so close to shore, the chances of a close up view are pretty good. You can take a 4 hour cruise dedicated to whale watching in a purpose built launch from Kaikoura. You may also see dolphins, seals and giant albatross along the way.
The acrobatic Dusky Dolphin and the smaller and rarer Hectors Dolphin inhabit the waters off Kaikoura. Daily boat trips to try to find and observe these animals also combine an optional “swim with the dolphins” experience.
Kaikoura is reputed to host the largest concentration and variety of seabirds on mainland New Zealand. You can take a cruise that focuses on encounters with the albatross and other sea birds.
You may see multiple species of albatross, shearwater and petrel as well as gannets, shags, gulls and maybe penguins along the way.
A couple of operators offer the chance to swim with seals just off the rocks of the Peninsula.
Kayaking amongst seals
Kayaking with seals (and other forms of marine life) around the Peninsula is another option for those with appropriate water confidence. Kayaks may be hired by two or more people or guided trips (and instruction) are available.
Snorkelling and diving
Interact with seals. Learn to catch a paua, crayfish or spear a butterfish – and you get to consume what you catch later.
FROM THE LAND
Seal and wildlife viewing
Seals are reasonably plentiful around the peninsula. You’ll likely happen upon some if taking the Kaikoura Peninsula Walk. Otherwise follow The Esplanade round to the Fyffe Quay car park at the end of the road. There are often one or two not far from the car park. Don’t disturb them by getting too close – keep 20 metres away at least.
FROM THE AIR
Choose between fixed wing and helicopter flights for an aerial view of life around the 1,000 metre deep Kaikoura Canyon.
Magic Hilltop Views
Here are three options requiring varying degrees of stamina:
- Drive or walk up to the viewing point above the town (in Scarborough Street)
- Take the Kaikoura Peninsula Walk
- Clamber up Mt Fyffe for an overall view from 1,600 metres (5,250 ft) (read more below)
Take a Coastal Drive
Take your time to drive north and, especially, south and stop to photograph or explore coves, caves, road and rail tunnels, wildlife, surfers, snorkelers, fishermen. A pair of binoculars is useful to settle any debate about whether that’s a whale out there or a rock.
And don’t forget the road past the town that goes part way round the peninsula past historic Fyffe House. (The Esplanade – Avoca Street – Fyffe Quay)
Local Arts & Crafts, Galleries and Museum
There is a thriving arts and crafts community in Kaikoura and there are several galleries worth visiting as well as the small but interesting District Museum. The museum displays include Maori artifacts as well as whaling, fishing, farming, saw milling, social history, marine fossil, geology and photographic archives.
An Art Trail brochure is available from the Information Centre.
Eating Local Seafood (and tasting local wine)
In Maori, kai means food and koura means crayfish (lobster). You’ll notice the odd caravan on the outskirts of town selling this local delicacy. Indulge. Enjoy. Other sumptuous Kaikoura seafoods to try include hapuka (grouper), blue cod, mussels, paua (abalone) and squid.
And why not try a local wine to accompany that seafood. Two km south of Kaikoura is the Kaikoura Winery, one of the most scenic vineyards in New Zealand. Overlook the coastline on one side and the mountains on the other while enjoying a glass of wine, an underground cellar tour or a meal from the winery cafe.
There are plenty of long stretches of beach to stroll near Kaikoura – start right in town or perhaps further along behind New World. Marvel at the colours and roundness of the pebbles along the beach; maybe bump into a stray penguin or seal pup, a visiting pod of dolphins or orca; listen for the rumble of the next train to Christchurch or Picton; soak in the views of the mountains running down to the sea ...