Boat trips to see whales at Kaikoura are well publicised as must-do activities, and draw large numbers of tourists. I usually focus on less crowded attractions, but fancied the idea of seeing whales along such a beautiful bit of New Zealand's coast - so I did the boat trip to see if the hype was deserved.
The first thing I learned about whale watching at Kaikoura is that the whales are present all year round thanks to a nearby deep sea trench, rich in food. This makes it easier for visitors - no need for your visit to coincide with a whale migration schedule like at most other whale hot spots. Just turn up any time, and there will be trips running.
Next I learned the cost of such trips, a factor which makes me hesitate to do paid activities. A couple of expensive adventures can easily cost more than a week of budget travel, so I've learned to be selective. In this case it looked worth it, so I took the plunge.
Early on a grey winter morning I set out on a whale watching tour. It was run by a Maori company, so a bit of indigenous culture was injected into the commentary. We had a large comfortable boat with informative crew, reasonable toilets and plenty of room on top, in the open air ... all we needed now was some whales.
As we pulled out to sea I was reminded of a very good reason to choose Kaikoura for a whale watching trip - the scenery. With a magnificent range of snow-capped mountains towering over its coast, Kaikoura has one of the most attractive settings of any town in New Zealand.
On a sunny winter morning it can be magical, and even on the dull overcast day of my boat trip it was still beautiful. If the whale watching ever turns out to be less than desired, the boat ride can still be enjoyed for the scenic views alone, as long as the views aren't blocked by low cloud or rain.
With sonar and aerial spotting it is rare not to see whales of some kind. On my trip we came upon a couple of enormous sperm whales who had come up for air. Judging by their lack of activity, they had also surfaced for a brief rest as well. But even without the leaping out of the water that some get to witness, it was great to get up close to such awesome creatures.
It's not all about the whales, and the scenery. Seals are plentiful along the Kaikoura coast, and some were spotted out to sea. It was good to see them swimming fast, something seldom seen from the shore. Then there were the huge but graceful wandering albatrosses, a sight I don't tire of - especially on water where the albatrosses are so at home.
At the end of the trip, everyone seemed to have been happy with it. Not only had we got up close to whales, we had also seen other bird and sea life on a pleasant outing with some great views of coast and mountains. If you're keen to see whales, Kaikoura is a great place to do it.
Whale Watch Kaikoura