Kaikoura is a small coastal town which is famous for its marine life. In 2016 the main roads to Kaikoura were cut off after an earthquake and even now the northbound road is still closed making it more difficult to get to as it’s no longer on the main route north. Although it’s a small and sleepy little town it’s definitely worth coming to visit and spending a few days here to make sure you can see all of the wildlife.

I’ve always wanted to see a whale so we came to Kaikoura with the intention of going on a whale watch. Due to the deep waters just off the coast of Kaikoura there is an abundance of marine life and it’s one of the places where you are most likely to see whales and dolphins.

We set out on an afternoon boat trip with Whale Watch Kaikoura in the hope of seeing some sperm whales. We were warned that the whale activity that had been monitored that day was on the edge of where the boat was allowed to travel to so we started the trip feeling as though we were going to be disappointed. However on the way out we saw New Zealand fur seals and some albatross so there was plenty to see.

It took a while tracking whales and keeping in touch with other vessels for further insights but eventually we saw a male sperm whale come to the surface for air where he stayed for about 10 minutes. When the whales come up for air you only see about two thirds of their length so it is difficult to appreciate just how big they are. We also saw the whale dive back down into the water so were rewarded with the iconic tail photograph. The thing that amazed me the most was just how graceful the whale was when diving down as it actually took much longer for the tail to disappear than I expected.

On the way back we could sit back and relax in the comfortable boat and were shown a series of interesting presentations about the sealife and marine environment. We did see another whale but only momentarily before it rolled and dived down in the water. It was really exciting to see such majestic creatures and I’m so pleased that I’ve now seen a whale. Now I’ve seen one I definitely want to see more in the future though.

Originally we were only planning on spending one night in Kaikoura but on our walk the following morning we only got as far as the Dolphin Encounter base and then ended up completely changing all of our plans for the opportunity to swim with dolphins. We’d initially chosen the whale watch over swimming with dolphins but having heard such great things about it from other people we decided it was worth the extra expense to do both.

Swimming with dolphins is probably the most incredible thing that I have ever done. It was so magical to be able to make some sort of connection with completely wild animals. I know some people are dubious about swimming with dolphins because of how the dolphins are treated but the Dusky Dolphins we swam with were completely wild and weren’t tempted in with food or anything. We were told not to touch them and it was completely up to the dolphins whether or not they interacted with us. Trying to make eye contact with the dolphins and making noises through our snorkels were two ways that we could attempt to attract their attention.

Just swimming amongst them was amazing but the moment I’ll always treasure is making eye contact with one and swimming around in circles with it before it jumped over me and moved on to better things. We were in a pod of about 200 Dusky Dolphins and swam in the water with them five times (I saw them in the water four of those times) before returning to the boat to dry off and watch them from the deck. Dusky Dolphins are very acrobatic so just watching them was wonderful. They were leaping out of the water, doing backflips and swimming alongside the boat. It felt like a show was being put on but it was all their own choice – they seemed like such joyous creatures it was heartwarming to watch.

On our final morning we managed to complete the walk we’d been intending to do the previous day around the peninsula to see the seal colonies. Unfortunately the cloud was low the entire time we were in Kaikoura so we couldn’t fully appreciate the mountainous scenery in the area but it didn’t stop me from having a great time.

Kaikoura isn’t the prettiest or most exciting location that we’ve visited in New Zealand but I’d recommend a trip there to anyone so that they too can have the opportunity to see whales and swim with dolphins. I’ll always remember my time in Kaikoura.


  1. Tom Berry
    December 19, 2017 / 5:06 pm

    I remember Kaikoura as my favourite moment in New Zealand about 15 years ago! I’m pleased you’re having such a wonderful time!

    • December 19, 2017 / 2:36 pm

      Thanks Tom. I think it will be a memorable moment for a very long time!

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