Whale Watching And Wildlife Spotting On The Kaikoura Peninsula, New Zealand

by Karen Warren
A sperm whale tail sighting during the Whale Watching Kaikoura boat tour

Kaikoura in New Zealand’s South Island has long been known for the abundance of its wildlife. 

In early times, this meant a profusion of food leading to an early Maori settlement on the peninsula (the name derives from the Maori words for “food” and “crayfish”). 

Centuries of capturing animals and birds for food have taken their toll, and today there are several conservation programs in Kaikoura. 

However, there is still enough wildlife to make exploring the peninsula a naturalist’s dream. 

So, if you’re interested in hearing what we saw wildlife we saw (hint: whales, birds, and more), continue reading this post. 

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Whale Watching In Kaikoura

Much of the wildlife of the Kaikoura Peninsula lives in the water. 

This means you have to go offshore to see it, so we booked ourselves onto a whale watching tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura. The tour takes about 2 hours, but you’ll need at least 3 hours for check-in and safety briefings. 

They reckon that they have a 95% success rate in spotting whales (in fact they are so confident that they offer a partial refund if no whales are sighted!). 

They say that on an average trip, you will see two whales; anything more is a bonus. 

We equipped ourselves with some “all natural” sea-sickness pills (surprisingly effective) and braced ourselves for a bumpy boat ride.

We were lucky on two counts. 

Firstly, with the weather. It was brilliantly sunny with just a little bit of cloud hovering over the coastal mountains, meaning that the boat didn’t toss around too much. 

And, secondly, because it was not very long before we saw our first whale. Our guide, Ellie, gave us a running commentary as we went. She said, “It’s a sperm whale. But it’s a bit lazy and it’s not going to dive for us.”

A sperm whale appears in the Kaikoura Peninsula and is about the dive into the water

A sperm whale prepares to dive. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

She went on to explain that sperm whales were resident here all through the year but other varieties, including blue whales, visited at other times

Today we would only see sperm whales, and they would all be males as “it’s too cold for the females.” 

As if on cue, another one appeared and obligingly did a great dive for us, its tail swishing in the air.

A sperm whale tail sighting during the Whale Watching Kaikoura boat tour

Here is the tail of a sperm whale. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Another whale rose to the surface, and then another. 

“Look with your eyes as well as the camera,” said Ellie. 

By the time the fifth whale was sighted, I heeded her words and put the camera away. I was rewarded with a magnificent view of the fluke.

Albatrosses and Seabirds

But it is not just whales. According to a local tourist publication, Kaikoura is the best place in the world to see seabirds

Dozens of shearwaters were flying above the surface of the water, and then from the corner of my eye, I spotted a bird with an enormous wing span. 

Distracted by the whales, I missed that one but another appeared, bobbing up and down on the water like a farmyard duck. It was a wandering albatross, the first I had ever seen.  

A white and black albatross sits on the water in Kaikoura Peninsula

A wandering albatross sits on the water. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Seals And Dolphins

We came back past Barney’s Rock, where whalers of old kept a lookout for whales. 

Today it is home to a colony of New Zealand blue seals, and we saw a number of pups playing on the rock.

A brown New Zealand blue seal rests on Barney's Rock in Kaikoura Peninsula

You’ll see New Zealand blue seals on Barney’s Rock. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

The boat made a sudden diversion, then stopped. 

A pod of splendid black and white dolphins was playing around the boat

They swam and dived, and flipped, showing off to their audience. They moved too fast for good photographs, so I allowed myself just to enjoy watching them.

A dolphin passes by the Whale Watching Kaikoura Boat during the whale watching tour

The dolphins move too fast to capture their antics! Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

The total tally for the trip was five whales, seals, dolphins, albatrosses, and shearwaters!

Whale Watching Kaikoura Additional Information

Address: Whaleway Station Road, Kaikōura 7340, New Zealand

Location: Click for Google Maps

Official Website: https://whalewatch.co.nz/kia-ora/ 

Check Tour Availability and Reserve Your Spot Here: Official Website | Get Your Guide | Klook

(Prebooking is highly recommended!)

A Colony Of Fur Seals at Point Kean

After our whale watching tour, we returned to the mainland to walk along the coastline, along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. It’s free to access the walkway. 

One of the main highlights is seeing the seal colony at Point Kean.

A brown fur seal resting on the rock at Kaikoura Peninsula

A fur seal basking on the rocks at Kaikoura Peninsula. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

In the past, seals were heavily hunted and their numbers diminished, but this colony has become a major breeding site. 

When I visited Point Kean, several fur seals were scattered about the rocks basking in the sun.

Most of them seemed to be happy lying on the rocks or sliding clumsily into the water, but one or two inquisitive males were nosing around the car park. 

We heeded the warnings that they could become aggressive if disturbed and kept them at a safe distance!  

Point Kean Viewpoint Additional Information

Address: 40 Fyffe Quay, Kaikōura Peninsula, Kaikōura 7300, New Zealand

Location: Click for Google Maps 

More Information: Website

Bird Sightings Along Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway curves right around the peninsula offering plenty of opportunities to spot birds. 

A view of the Peninsula Walkway next to the waters

The Peninsula Walk gives spectacular views. The strangely shaped hill on the left is evidence of early Maori settlement. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

We had already seen wading birds – including shags and oystercatchers – near the seal colony and set off on the cliff top path in the hope of spotting some more. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t see anything other than a goldfinch in a tree, but it was a pleasant walk all the same, with sea views and a walk down to Whaler’s Bay (where whalers of old would keep a look out for their quarry).  

A young brown bird with yellow and black chest sits on top of a plant in Kaikoura Peninsula area

A young goldfinch sits in a bush on the cliff top. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

We passed through the shearwater conservation area

At one time, shearwaters were a major source of food for the people who lived on the peninsula causing a major depletion in their population, but now they are protected. 

Although we didn’t see any on our evening walk, it is often possible to spot large flocks of shearwater here during the spring and summer (and in fact, we did see some off shore the following day). 

If you are lucky you may also see the blue penguins that frequent these waters.  

Final Thoughts

Visiting Kaikoura Peninsula is an incredible experience to see birds and fur seals, go whale watching, and walk along the coastline for beautiful views. It’s the perfect destination for nature loving travelers to stop by for the day. Enjoy your time here!

If you need a suggestion on a place to visit afterward, we recommend heading to Christchurch for a couple of days.

Visit WorldWideWriter for my travel adventures.  

Featured photo credit: WorldWideWriter

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