Cornwall is a hotspot for basking sharks and they first turn up here. The migration follows the coastline and passes Land's End in spring. They are attracted by the high plankton concentration.
The season for basking sharks usually starts in May and last until October. Actually, the best time is mid-May until mid-July. However, there is no guarantee to spot these sharks. In 2017 the best time was April until the beginning of May. In 2018 the first sighting of two sharks was at the end of April. In recent years, fewer basking sharks were spotted. In 2019 two basking sharks were already seen on March 12 which is pretty early.
Very important are good weather conditions, a sunny day and calm wind to spot them on the surface of the sea and for snorkeling with them as well. Book your trip at short notice. First, check if basking sharks are already around the coast.
What Else to Spot
- common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins
- minke whales (very shy)
- pilot whales
- leatherback turtles
- sometimes sunfish
- blue sharks; season starts end of June, more reliable to spot them but not predictable
- seals from mid-May until October
Check out the recent sightings for SW England
Where to Stay
There are many lovely B&B's in Penzance to choose from. Don't come here in a rush and for the basking sharks only. There is so much more like Kynance Cove, St. Michaels Mount, Minack Theatre and the hanging gardens to mention just a view. Our absolutely favorite B&B is the Marine Lodge. The view alone is worth to stay here. The Marine Lodge is spotlessly clean with wonderful owners. You couldn't wish for better.
Antarctica: Stunning and dramatic landscapes, as well as superb wildlife-viewing opportunities are like no other place on earth.
Expedition cruises to Antarctica are only possible during the southern summer between late October/November and March. This is the time when the ice break ups, which allows cruise ships to pass. Depending on the month, there are slight variations in what you’ll see and which antarctic animals you may spot:
November (Icebergs, Seals)
Best time to see the ice breaking into large icebergs and amazing sculptures. Wildflowers are in bloom, and it’s a great time to spot breeding elephant seals. However, it’s still very cold. Temperatures are way below freezing.
December (Warmer, Seals, First Penguins)
Days are long, with 20 hours of sunshine. Still a great month to spot seals and already some active penguins. It’s also getting warmer with temperatures around freezing.
January (Warmest Month, Penguins)
The perfect month for wildlife viewing, with plenty of penguins active, as well as seabirds and a few whales. Days are still long. It’s also the ‘warmest’ month with temperatures slightly above freezing.
February - March (Whales)
The best time for whale watching such as humpback, sperm, and orca. You can also spot fledgling penguin chicks, especially in February. It’s getting a lot colder again in March.
April - September (Winter)
Winter in Antarctica. The temperatures are freezing (up to -30°C). No possible way to visit, as the polar ice blocks the ship traffic.
Kaikoura famous for being one of the best places for whale watching is situated almost 200 km north of Christchurch. It's less than three hours drive on Hwy 1.
Kaikoura is a popular tourist destination and the best one in New Zealand for year-round whale and dolphin watching. You encounter resident sperm whales that have a 95 % sighting chance throughout the year. Dusky dolphins, as well as Common and Hector Dolphins, are also spotted year-round. Usually, there are two seasons for whale watching , ut exceptions occur, and you watch an unexpected pod of orcas during the winter. Continue reading our updated 2019/2020 guide to figure out details when to spot the different whale types in Kaikoura and what kind of trips are offered.
2 Whale Watching Seasons | Migrating Whales
Besides the resident sperm whales, which you can spot throughout the year, there are two different whale watching seasons for migrating whales around the Kaikoura Coastline:
- Colder Season: During the colder season from May to October you can spot migrating whales: Southern right whales, humpback whales, pilot whales and sometimes even blue whales. According to experts, the best time to see many species of migrating whales in Kaikoura during the colder season is between June and August.
- Warmer Season: During the summer, usually from November until March, you may spot orcas passing by in pods between 6 - 12 whales. Sometimes you spot blue whales as well. While there are slightly fewer sightings of migrating whales in summer, a whale watching tour during the warmer season is an absolute must-do!
Crowds / Fully Booked Tours
It's a very popular attraction and advisable to book these tours in advance, especially during the peak season in summer. Early morning trips are not always fully booked, but from 10 am onwards the boats fill up pretty fast. However, we would book in advance regardless of the time of day. That being said, book your trip far in advance if you prefer a later tour. One of the best tours is being offered by Whale Watch Kaikoura: Kaikoura Whale Watching Cruise (please book in advance otherwise you run the risk of not getting on the tour when you're there!)
Seal Colony in Kaikoura
Temps are pleasant from November to March, often around 20°C during the day. Nights temps are usually around 10°C. From April to October, the temps are on average above 10°C up to 16 °C. Significant rainfall can happen throughout the year. The wettest months occur from March to August. Due to the forecast, tours can get cancelled. Often the wind increases in the afternoon, and it's pretty rough on the boat. Be prepared if you struggle with sea-sickness.
Types of Whale Watching Trips and Prices
- Boat: A boat trip is common and the cheapest option for whale watching. Price per adult roughly $ 150 and child $ 60. The swell picks up in the afternoon. Sea-sickness remedies are helpful. The best boat tour: Kaikoura Whale Watching Cruise
- Plane: Nowadays 30 and 40 minutes flights by small planes are offered, When they spot a whale, they circle around 150 meters / 500 feet above. It's much shorter, but the planes are not depending on the sea conditions. Boat trips get more often cancelled due to a rough sea. Price per adult between $150 -180. Excellent flight/tour: Kaikoura - 30 Minutes Whale Watching Flight
- Helicopter: Also, helicopter flights are offered at 150 meters height. You can book trips from 30 minutes up to an hour. It's worth it, but also quite expensive depending on the number of people in your group for two adults more than $300 p.p. You'll love the tour (booking via GetYourGuide): Kaikoura - 30 Minutes Whale Watching Helicopter Tour
5 Great Kaikoura Tips
Very tasty Paua Sandwich!
- Paua Sandwich: Have a look for a snack stall close to the fur seal colony and try a Paua Sandwich (see the picture above). Although the black color looks strange, it is tasty and interesting. The Paua shell is famous for its beautiful colors and sold as a souvenir.
- Morning Tour: The sea is calmer in the morning and before the afternoon breeze gets up, it's a good idea to book a morning tour. It doesn't need to be the first one, though.
- Sea Sickness: If you experienced seasickness before, be sure to take a sea-sickness remedy no matter how calm it looks.
- Tour Cancellation: Tours may get cancelled due to harsh weather conditions. Confirm your trip a day before with your tour operator.
- Highway: Highway 1 south of Kaikoura gets closed in poor weather conditions. Check the weather forecast and get in touch with your tour operator.