Kaikoura Whale Watching: The Complete Guide

blog authorBy Johanna Hansen shield verification Verified Expert

    New Zealand's coastal gem, Kaikoura, is a haven for marine enthusiasts. With its rich marine life and stunning landscapes, it's no wonder that Kaikoura whale watching has become a must-do activity for travelers. Whether you're a seasoned adventurer or a first-time visitor, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your whale-watching experience in Kaikoura.

    What whales can be seen in Kaikoura?

    Giant Sperm Whales

    Giant Sperm Whales are the main attraction in Kaikoura. They are drawn to the region due to the 2km deep Kaikōura Canyon, which sustains a rich marine food chain. These whales are known for their deep dives, often reaching depths of over 3000m. 

    Their diet mainly consists of squid, but they also consume sharks and various bony fish. Kaikōura is a haven for male sperm whales, with females and young ones preferring warmer tropical waters. Some interesting facts about them include:

    • They produce spermaceti oil, which was highly sought after in the 19th century.
    • They can eat around 1.5 tonnes of food per day.
    • They have the largest brain of any animal, weighing up to 9kgs.

    Giant Sperm Whales

    Humpback Whales

    Humpback Whales are known for their acrobatics and playful nature. They migrate from the Antarctic to the tropics to mate and give birth. In Kaikōura, they are frequently seen during winter months (June to August) and are known for their spectacular displays like spyhopping, breaching, and flipper slapping. 

    Their feeding technique, known as bubble net feeding, is particularly fascinating. They create a ring of bubbles to trap fish and then swallow thousands in one gulp.

    Humpback Whale

    Southern Right Whales

    These whales are often seen close to the shore in Kaikoura. They have a distinctive appearance with callosities on their heads. Their primary diet consists of copepods, a type of zooplankton. Historically, they were the "right whale" to hunt due to their slow speed and oil-rich bodies.

    Southern Right Whale

    Blue Whales

    Being the largest animal on the planet, Blue Whales are a magnificent sight. They consume up to 4.5 tons of krill daily. Their whistle can be heard underwater across entire oceans. Blue Whales are seasonal visitors to Kaikōura, making any sighting a special event.

    Blue Whale

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    Bryde's Whales

    While they are mainly found in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, Bryde's Whales are critically endangered. Their presence in Kaikoura is less frequent compared to other species.

    Bryde´s Whales in New Zealand

    Minke Whales

    Minke Whales are the smallest of the baleen whales. They were extensively hunted in the past, and little is known about them due to their elusive behavior. Both dwarf and Antarctic Minkes are found in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Minke Whale

    When is the best time to go whale watching in Kaikoura?

    June to August is considered one of the peak migratory times for whales in the area. This is the winter season in New Zealand (since it's in the Southern Hemisphere). Many species of whales give birth during these winter months, often during migration as they move to warmer waters. This means there's a good chance of seeing baby whales during this period. 

    Whale watching in Kaikoura is a unique experience that can be enjoyed year-round. Sperm whales are the primary residents of the area and can be seen throughout the year. 

    From December to March, you have the chance to see Orcas (Killer whales). June through July is the prime time to spot Humpback whales. There are also many other species of whales that can be seen, such as Southern Right whales, Minke whales, Long-Finned Pilot whales, and more.

    If you prefer warmer weather, consider visiting New Zealand from October to March. During this period, especially from December onward, you are more likely to see pods of 6-12 orcas. 

    The largest volume of whales can be observed near Kaikoura during the winter migratory period. This is also when you are most likely to witness whales breaching or jumping out of the water.

    The best time of day for whale watching depends on personal preference and available tour times. Whales are mostly active at night, so there isn't a specific time of day that guarantees more activity. Morning conditions tend to offer the best visibility, and it's also cooler, which can be a relief, especially during the summer months.

    How to choose a whale watching tour in Kaikoura

    • Factors to consider when choosing a whale watching tour: Look for reputable companies, check reviews, and consider the type of boat and amenities offered.
    • Top-rated whale watching companies in Kaikoura: While many operators offer tours, it's essential to choose one that prioritizes safety and has knowledgeable guides.

    Tips for getting the most out of your whale watching experience

    • What to bring on a whale watching tour: Dress in layers, carry sunscreen, a hat, and don't forget your camera! Also, if you're planning a road trip around New Zealand, consider renting a campervan from campervannewzealand.co.nz for a more immersive experience.
    • Whale watching in New Zealand is easy all year round, but consider what you want to see and what you want the weather to be like to choose the ideal time of year.
    • How to behave on a whale watching tour: Respect the marine life, listen to the guide, and avoid loud noises or sudden movements.
    • Tips for taking great whale watching photos and videos: Use a stable platform, avoid using flash, and be patient.

    Whale Watching in Kaikoura with Kids

    Kaikoura whale watching FAQs

    What is the success rate of seeing whales in Kaikoura?

    With a success rate of over 95%, Kaikoura is one of the best places for whale watching.

    What happens if I don't see any whales?

    Most tour operators offer a return trip or a partial refund.

    Is whale watching in Kaikoura suitable for children?

    Absolutely! It's an educational and fun experience for kids.

    What are the best places to stay in Kaikoura for whale watching?

    There are various accommodations ranging from luxury resorts to budget-friendly hostels.

    What other things can I do in Kaikoura besides whale watching?

    Explore the local culture, indulge in seafood delicacies, or take a scenic flight over the peninsula.

    In conclusion, Kaikoura whale watching is an experience like no other. The chance to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is truly unforgettable. Whether you're visiting during the best time to see whales in Kaikoura or any other time of the year, the marine spectacle is sure to leave you in awe. So, pack your bags, rent a campervan, and embark on a journey of a lifetime!

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