Whale and Dolphin Watching - Kaikoura
Kaikoura is a popular tourist destination and the best in New Zealand for whale and dolphin watching throughout the year. There are resident sperm whales with a 95 % chance of a sighting. Common, Hector, and Dusky Dolphins are also spotted year-round. Usually, there are two seasons for whale watching but exceptions occur, and you watch an unexpected pod of orcas during the winter. Continue reading to figure out details when to spot the different whale types in Kaikoura and what kind of trips are offered.
2 Whale Watching Seasons
- During the colder season from May to October migrating whales are spotted; southern right whales, humpback whales, pilot whales and sometimes even blue whales.
During spring and summer, you may spot pods of orcas and sometimes blue whales as well.
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. Either book an early morning whale watching trip or far in advance if you prefer a later tour. Day trips from Christchurch are offered. If you are limited in time don't miss this exceptional place for whale watching and book a day trip from Christchurch: Kaikoura Day Tour & Whale Watching Cruise from Christchurch
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 canceled. Often the wind increases in the afternoon, and it's pretty rough on the boat. Be prepared if you struggle from sea-sickness.
Seal Colony in Kaikoura
There are day trips available from Christchurch to Kaikoura and back just for the whale watching trip. If you are limited in time that's a good idea. We loved to stay in Kaikoura for three reasons; First tours can get canceled due to poor weather, second, if there isn't any whale sighting you get 80 % refunded and you could book a second trip, third there is so much more to explore in Kaikoura like the fur seal colony. Bookmark the link for the best accommodation deals in Kaikoura and stay here at least for two nights.
Kaikoura famous to be 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. Due to the nutrient-rich waters of the 3000 meters deep Kaikoura Canyon, the chance for whales sightings is almost 100 %. First, there is an introduction movie and then a short ride by bus to the harbour. Take precaution if sea-sickness is an issue for you. Due to the speed of the boat and the swell many people struggled. You have to stay inside as long as the boat moves forward.
You may see Albatrosses and other seabirds on your whale watching trip. Quite often there are common dolphins or huge schools with hundreds of Dusky Dolphins around. The boat trip takes roughly 3 hours plus the introduction and bus shuttle. Strong winds occur frequently, and it's pretty rough on the boat. Wear a rain and windproof jacket; it gets chilly on deck.
Different Types of Whales Around Kaikoura
Sperm Whales are present throughout the year. It is one of the deepest diving whales more than 1000 meters for their main prey squid. They got hunted for the oil in their head used for the smokeless candles production in the 19th century. The last one got killed in 1964. Nowadays the entire sea around New Zealand is a protected zone for whales.
Humpback Whales migrate from the Antartic to warm tropical waters like Tonga during the winter from May to October, but especially in May and October, they pass Kaikoura. They migrate to Tonga for mating and breeding. One of the view spots in the world where you can swim with this gentle giants.
Blue Whales are the biggest animals on our planet up to almost 30 meters long. They are protected since 1965. It's rare to spot them but always magic. They occur here throughout the year while passing by.
Blue Whale in Sri Lanka
Southern Right Whales are endangered. Protected since 1937 but slow breeders, therefore, they can't recover fast from hunting in the past. They migrate to Hermanus in South Africa and stay there from June to October.
Southern Right Whales close to Hermanus
Orcas can be seen occasionally during summer from November to March. Anyhow, sightings are not predictable, and it can happen to spot them even during winter.
Orca in Tarifa, Spain
Pilot Whales are very social always live and migrate in huge pods. Especially in New Zealand whale stranding occurs often. The last with two pods of pilot whales on Stewart Island was in November 2018. They belong to the dolphin family and get around 5 meters in length.
Pilot Whales in Tarifa, Spain
- If you want to swim with dusky dolphins, it's advisable to book the tour in advance during the peak season at least one week before.
Available Whale Watching Trips and Prices
- 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. Anyhow, sea-sickness remedies are helpful.
- 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 canceled due to a rough sea. Price per adult between $150 -180.
Also, helicopter flights are offered in 150 meters height. You can book trips from 30 minutes up to an hour. It's quite expensive depending on the number of people in your group for two adults more than $300 p.p.
2 Must Know Tips
- Tours get canceled due to poor weather conditions. Confirm your trip a day before.
The Hwy 1 south of Kaikoura gets closed in poor weather conditions. Check the road closures with your tour operator.
Have a look for a snack stall close to the fur seal colony and try a Paua Sandwich. Although the black colour looks strange, it is tasty and interesting. The Paua shell is famous for its beautiful colors and sold as a souvenir.