Kaikoura and Whale Watching
Kaikoura and Whale Watching were one of the places and experiences that will forever live in our memories.
After our route had taken us from Picton all the way down the West Coast, we saved Kaikoura and Whale Watching as the last highlight of our Slow Travel in New Zealand. This was the cherry on top of our incredible New Zealand journey.
We slowly made our way back from the south towards Christchurch on the east coast. After a stop of a few days in Christchurch we drove further north to Kaikoura.
Kaikoura was interesting to us not only because of the whale watching. But because the small town also sounded very cozy and beautiful, and offered even more nature and wildlife.
We had read in advance that Kaikoura is very well known for its Crayfish. Thanks to the nutrient-rich coastline, there are many of them here. In fact, Kai-koura translates as Food and Crayfish in the native Māori language.
Tip: In the informational brochure “Must Do South-Island” from i-SITE, we found many useful routes and tips.
Our Campground in Kaikoura
Before we arrived, we saw via the app CamperMate that there were no free campgrounds in Kaikoura. But luckily, we still had WikiCamps, where we found a free campground.
Although not centrally located, and unfortunately not with a sea view or the sound of the ocean, we were glad to have found something.
It was an Irish pub with powered and unpowered sites for campers. Powered sites were 29 NZD per night, while unpowered sites were free of charge. What surprised us most was that each parking spot was divided so that it had its own place with its own water connection.
We liked it there so much that we stayed four nights, instead of our plan of only two nights.
One evening we enjoyed a cool Guinness, and another evening we had dinner. Since we were fully self-contained, this was our “thank you” to the Donegal House for the free campground.
Tip: If you want to camp in Kaikoura for free, don’t miss the Donegal House! You won’t see dolphins or whales swimming into the bay while lying in your camper, but you will have a safe and good campground and an excellent overnight stay.
Wildlife and Walks in Kaikoura
On the way to the Kaikoura Seal Colony
Our first day in Kaikoura we set out to find the Seal Colony.
On the way to the Kaikoura Seal Colony, however, there were other things to see. During the drive we saw a small market. And since I absolutely love markets, this was our first stop.
It was more like a flea market that we strolled through, that also offered homemade jams for sale. Afterwards, we drove to the Kaikoura Lookout where we lingered for a while and enjoyed the views before continuing to Fyffe House.
Opposite the Fyffe House was a bay where we stopped with our campervan Lorna. The bay was spectacular and for the moment kept us from visiting the Fyffe House.
The Fyffe House itself was unfortunately closed due to restoration work.
The Sea Lions of Kaikoura
The Fyffe House is not far from the Point Kean parking lot where we parked Lorna and continued our journey of discovery on foot.
What we had seen before had only been a foretaste. We walked along a bay over some phenomenal rock formations. We were met by many happy faces and so we knew that we were on the right track.
There were as many seagulls here on the coast as there were sheep in the mountains that we had seen while driving through New Zealand. By the way, not only do you hear the seagulls, but you also smell them ?
After an entertaining walk we finally arrived! And we saw the sea lions!
So close and so free in the nature. This foreshadowed what we thought it might be like to see the whales in a few days.
We took our time watching the unhurried sea lions. How they slept in the sun and swam in the natural pools.
Especially one of the sea lions seemed to love the water a lot. He swam, spun around in the water and washed himself several times.
Oh, we could have stayed here forever.
Tip: Please don’t forget that we are invading their territory, virtually their home. So, keep your distance and leave the sea lions alone. If you stand a little further away, you can still see them very well and watch them in peace.
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
Unfortunately, we only walked part of the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. We had been dilly-dallying for too long, sitting for too long, and staring at the sea for too long.
It became late and so we returned to the parking lot. But since we prefer to travel slowly, that was also right for us and we loved 1000% what we saw!
Wander Routes in Kaikoura
I have copied the following route information from the page 100% Pure New Zealand for you:
Kaikoura town centre to the car park at Point Kean (50 min., 4.4km)
Point Kean parking lot to Point Kean Viewpoint (5 min., 200 m)
Point Kean Viewpoint to Whalers Bay Viewpoint (25 min., 1.5 km); the detour to Whalers Bay is optional
Whalers Bay Viewpoint to South Bay Viewpoint (20 min., 1.1 km)
South Bay Viewpoint to South Bay Car Park (15 min., 600 m)
South Bay to Kaikoura town centre, via Scarborough Street (1 hr 5 min, 3.9km)
Kaikoura Peninsula Brochure:
The city of Kaikoura itself is very charming and we liked it very much.
There is a museum, a few souvenir shops, an i-SITE, a bakery, an ice cream parlour and of course something not to be missed: a Fish’n Chips restaurant. We read about Cooper’s Catch online and tried their Fish’n Chips. Even if we have a slightly different definition of peaceful dinning: the food itself was great! But the seagulls know that too. And if you don’t pay attention, you will lose your food!
Whale Watching in Kaikoura
Our days were fantastic. We loved our campground, the small town of Kaikoura, and everything that we had seen and experienced so far. And we were more and more excited for what was to come, whale watching!
There were many different tours to choose from. Some where you can swim with the sea lions or dolphins in addition to whale watching. There is also an Albatross Encounter tour. We asked if the birds were attracted with food on the tour, which unfortunately was confirmed. That’s why we decided against it, even though we would have liked to join.
But back to our Kaikoura highlight! We were on our way to experience our first whale watching tour.
The organizer who runs the tours is called Whale Watch. A short, crisp and concise name.
The whale watching takes place in very modern catamarans. There is a 95% success rate and the company even promises 80% of the ticket price back if you don’t see any whales on your tour.
Nothing can go wrong, we thought, and we were more than willing to invest the 135 NZD per person.
Tip: The normal entrance fee is 150 NZD per person. But thanks to the app Arrival, we received a discount when booking at the counter by showing the app.
However, I saw on the display board that the probability of sea sickness for that day was very high.
Disappointed, we decided to come back the next day.
Nevertheless, it was not a lost day, because the company is fantastically located on a stone beach that overlooks the sea. We saw something in the water and curiously ran down to the beach. Dolphins!!
Out came the camera and the day was saved.
Today We See Whales
The next morning the sun was shining. We got up early hoping that the sea would be calm, because we definitely didn’t want to miss the whales again. Even though Kaikoura was so beautiful, we were planning to move on. Because before flying to Melbourne, Australia, we wanted to spend another few days in Christchurch.
In Kaikoura you can see sperm whales all year round. And if you are lucky, you can also see whales in the bay. A local told us that someone had seen an orca in the bay the day before. What a lucky dog!
The sea looked calm, and when we saw that the Whale Watch display board didn’t mention anything to the contrary, our faces brightened. But not for long. Because we were told that all tickets had already been sold. There was only one tour in the late afternoon still available.
We thought back and forth of what we should do and had the idea to ask if there was a waiting list.
There was one! So, we added our names and bridged the time by “looking at the sea”, one of my favorite pastimes.
We were lucky, because after about 30 minutes of waiting, we were told that exactly 2 spots became available for the morning cruise. Woohoo!
We got on the shuttle bus that took us to South Bay, where a chic catamaran awaited us. The ride was pleasant, and I didn’t get sick. And soon the engines stopped!
Whale in Sight
“Whale in sight!” The Capitan’s announcement sounded like music to our ears, and there it was. The first thing that we saw was the spout.
The spout is the whale breathing air which is mixed with water drops. It looks like a water fountain when the whale exhales.
A little later we saw him moving and preparing to dive. Goosebumps!! This was the moment we were hoping to see!
We had wanted nothing more than to see this magical spectacle. And there it was, directly in front of us! He dived and we saw his fin.
At that moment, I really wished I had a better lens!
Although we captured this moment with the camera, we mainly captured it in our hearts.
We got lucky and saw two more sperm whales. All of them dived after a while and we got to see the tails again. Gigantic! While we were happily showing each other the videos and photos that we took, the loudspeaker sounded again.
The reason: a humpback whale has been spotted! Oh man, we never expected that!
He turned his belly toward us, so that the white shimmered out of the water. The Captain joked that you can smell a humpback whale before you can see him because of its bad breath. And, we can definitely confirm this 100%, hahaha.
After this unexpected sighting, our tour had unfortunately come to end, and we had to drive back. But not before we saw an albatross in flight!
We could not have expected a better ending.
We liked Kaikoura a lot, and the whale watching was the icing on the cake.
We were in Kaikoura at the end of our three-month journey and find that this rounded off our road trip perfectly. Nature with its sensational hiking trails, the many possibilities to see animals in their natural surroundings and the sweet city center should not be missed.