Whale Tales

Sperm whales, Blue Whales, Hump­back whales … Kaik­oura is a marine Mecca writes Alex Cuff

Go Travel New Zealand - - Kaikoura -

Formed in 1987 by the indige­nous Ngati Kuri peo­ple, a sub­tribe of the South Is­land’s larger Ngai Tahu Tribe, Whale Watch Kaik­oura was cre­ated to help al­le­vi­ate the Maori com­mu­nity’s un­em­ploy­ment di­fi­cul­ties. Since then, Whale Watch Kaik­oura has de­vel­oped into an in­ter­na­tional award-win­ning eco­tourism com­pany and is a world leader when it comes to ex­plor­ing and dis­cov­er­ing sea life.

Whale Watch is ded­i­cated to the pro­tec­tion of marine wildlife and the care of the en­vi­ron­ment. Whale Watch’s re­spect, guardian­ship and pas­sion to­wards the whale species is ev­i­dent in all as­pects of the ex­pe­ri­ence - from post­cards found at the book­ing-in cen­tre, to the crew’s de­scrip­tion of the whales as spec­tac­u­lar and won­drous.

Glanc­ing around the Whale Watch re­cep­tion, tourists lined up on ei­ther side of me are bub­bling with ex­cite­ment as they book in at the front desk. Ba­sic safety brief­ings and stan­dards are care­fully com­mu­ni­cated on an over­head screen with an em­pha­sis on child safety, which makes ev­ery­one feel more at ease and com­fort­able.

We make our way to the bus and are each in­di­vid­u­ally wel­comed with a friendly greet­ing by our bus driver Wil­lie, who tells us that this is “a pearler of a day”, with near per­fect con­di­tions and only a small swell.

Af­ter the short bus drive over the penin­sula to South Bay we are taken to the ma­rina. Here To­hora, one of four cus­tom made ves­sels is wait­ing for us with four crew mem­bers out­side with ea­ger smiles and greet­ings. We are seated and spo­ken to by our guide Aroha, who in­tro­duces us to our cap­tain for the day, Paki, along with fel­low crew Al­lan and Ha­ley. Aroha starts the tour o by hav­ing us com­i­cally search­ing for our seat­belts when we in­ally re­alise that there aren’t

any on a boat. Her re­laxed na­ture and lo­cal wis­dom is com­fort­ing as she nav­i­gates her way through safety pro­ce­dures.

Within min­utes of glid­ing through the wa­ter we be­gin our jour­ney out to sea and are in­stantly wel­comed by marine wildlife, as birds soar over­head and seals bask in the seas still­ness. A light breeze ills the air and the back­drop of snowy moun­tains con­trasted against the glis­ten­ing ocean on such a sunny day makes for the per­fect post­card pic­ture. Aroha di­rects our at­ten­tion back to the main pur­pose of our visit; to see some of the world’s largest and most trea­sured crea­tures. She tells us that Sperm whales are what we are most likely to see to­day as they are found feed­ing in the Kaik­oura canyon year round.

Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales and can reach an av­er­age of 16 me­tres in length with the largest brain of any an­i­mal on earth. Aroha also tells us about how Sperm whales use a liq­uid

sub­stance called sper­ma­ceti to reg­u­late their buoy­ancy which can so­lid­ify or be­come liq­uid de­pend­ing on whether the mam­mal wants to dive down for food or come back up for air. She also tells us about other whales such as the Hump­back, Blue Whale & other species of marine life sighted through­out the year.

Sud­denly we hear news that there is al­ready a Sperm whale on the sur­face. The boat po­si­tions it­self next to the whale and the wow­ing of ec­static voices ills the air around me as we all look on in amaze­ment. The whale is sub­merged with its head in full view to us. I quickly snap pho­tos and then put my cam­era down to en­joy this mo­ment of hav­ing such a mag­nif­i­cent and as­ton­ish­ing crea­ture right in front of us. As the boat idles, ev­ery­one falls silent as they watch the whale spend time tak­ing in oxy­gen as he lays con­tent in the calm wa­ter. Over the mi­cro­phone Aroha tells us that this is Ti­aki, a semi-res­i­den­tial whale to the Kaik­oura canyon. The crew can dis­tin­guish in­di­vid­u­als by their unique tails & dor­sal.

We are able to watch the whale for an­other ten min­utes be­fore it be­gins to arch its back and dive back down to­wards the seabed with its sig­na­ture tale lick upon its de­scent. Left in its place is its foot­print, a dis­place­ment of wa­ter due to the de­scend­ing tale brush which once was be­lieved by early set­tlers to be oil left be­hind from the whale.

Whale Watch Kaik­oura is New Zealand’s ul­ti­mate all-year-round marine ex­pe­ri­ence.

The ex­pe­ri­ence is ex­hil­a­rat­ing, and left with the rush of the breath­tak­ing sight, we head o to­wards Bar­ney’s Rock, which is a fur seal colony. We are told more about the other whales Ao­raki, Tutu and Manu, which fre­quently visit the Kaik­oura canyon along the way. As the boat draws to a close we see a small pod of hec­tor dol­phins pass by us. Cush­ioned around the snow-tipped Kaik­oura ranges with the end­less sea sur­round­ing us, it is hard to imag­ine any­where else you would rather be.

As the sun be­gins to dis­ap­pear be­hind the moun­tains, we be­gin our leisurely re­treat to dry land. Glid­ing through the wa­ter with sea spray at our sides, we re­cline in our seats and watch a de­tailed video of the Kaik­oura canyon; a sub­ma­rine canyon that con­nects into a deep sea chan­nel sys­tem.

It is a bit­ter-sweet mo­ment as we wave good­bye to the crew from the de­part­ing bus. The sense of be­ing sus­pended in liq­uid dis­ap­pears but the mem­ory re­mains, along with the mag­nif­i­cent ex­pe­ri­ence of Kaik­oura’s im­mense sea crea­tures, which will stay with us for a life­time. Kaik­oura truly is a marine mecca.

Whale Watch Kaik­oura is New Zealand’s ul­ti­mate all year round marine ex­pe­ri­ence o er­ing vis­i­tors ex­cit­ing close en­coun­ters with male Sperm whales. An im­pres­sive 95% suc­cess rate means that you are guar­an­teed an 80% re­fund if your tour does not see a whale.

Tours are sched­uled year round. Book­ings es­sen­tial—please visit for more in­for­ma­tion and tour book­ings www.whale­watch.co.nz

Pho­tos cour­tesy of: Whale Watch Kaik­oura

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