So, you’re looking at planning a holiday to New Zealand, and you’re wanting to tick off a few #NZMustDo’s whilst here. Watching whales is right up there on bucket list moments, and seeing them in Kaikōura, the beautiful coastal town on the East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, is the perfect place.
Sperm whales, the world’s largest toothed predator in the world, can be found off Kaikōura’s coastline right throughout the year. This is because the waters off Kaikōura’s coast provide a unique habitat for oceanic life. Only a mere 800 meters from land, the Kaikōura Canyon plummets to depths of 1200+ meters, opening up to a trench which extends far out into the Pacific Ocean.
Kaikōura’s nutrient-rich waters are often referred to as a ‘cold-water supermarket’ for marine life. Cold currents from Antarctica mix with warmer currents from the equator, providing nutrients that encourage a food chain which begins with tiny plankton and goes all the way up to dolphins and whales.
Due to the Kaikōura waters being so popular with marine life, Whale Watch Kaikōura has a 95% success rate, and guarantees an 80% refund if your tour is unable to sight a whale.
Even though Sperm whales can be found in Kaikōura all year round, when is the best time to go whale watching? Our answer? Every day is a good day to watch whales, but some times of the year offer better opportunities than others.
If you prefer to be in a warmer climate, then your best bet is the warmer months of November - March. A New Zeeland summer can’t be beat. Not that this matters to the Sperm whales, we see them all year round. But Summer can also be a good time to see transient Killer whales. We see them about two to three times a month, travelling in pods of between 6 – 12 individuals.
Personally, our favourite time to be out on the water is in Winter. Yes, it’s much cooler and you need to wear a few extra layers of clothing, but did you know that an ‘underwater highway’ runs past Kaikōura, and in Winter Humpback whales travel this route on their Great Annual Migration.
During the months of June – August, Humpback whales leave the Antarctic waters and head further north to the warmer tropical waters of places like Tonga and Australia. Whale Watch tours regularly get to see these whales as they embark on their journey past the Kaikōura Coastline. Humpback whales are one of the most acrobatic species in the world, and it is not uncommon to see these mammals breaching and propelling their body out of the water.
Plus, Winter is when the Kaikōura Ranges are coated in snow. Could you imagine being out on the water on a crisp blue-sky Winter day, watching a Sperm whale dive down, arching its powerful tale with snow-capped mountains as your backdrop?
Kaikōura is a marine mecca. It is home to many marine species, including Sperm whales, Hectors dolphins and Dusky dolphins, and is also visited by transient species, such as Humpback whales, Orca, Pilot whales, Blue whales, Fin whales and Southern Right whales. Every day and every tour is unique, and part of the thrill of a Whale Watch tour is being out on the open ocean viewing wild mammals in their natural environment. You never know what you might see.