Kaikoura, overlooked by the Seaward Kaikoura Mountains, is snow-capped during the winters. The region first attracted the Maori, who came because of the abundance of sea food (kai – food, koura – crayfish). The peninsula that overlooks the town was once the site of at least 11 Pa (fortified village) and even today has one of the largest Maori populations on a percentage basis of all South Island centres. European whalers and sealers followed, and Kaikoura township is built on the site of a whaling station that was established in 1843.
Ironically, the sperm whale, once hunted for its oil, has helped Kaikoura prosper in the 21st century. The whales and other marine mammals attracted by the up-dwellings of deep, nutrient-rich waters brought in by the 2,000-3,000m deep undersea canyons just off the coast, attract other giants of the deep, such as giant squid. On almost any given day sperm whales, along with dusky, rare Hector’s and often bottle-nosed dolphin can be seen, and New Zealand fur seals abound. Other species that are common for visitors are humpback, pilot, southern right whales and orca. Of the 40+ species of marine mammals recorded in New Zealand, over 50% have been sighted in these waters.
Seabirds abound close inshore and further off the coast, and today alongside whale watching people come from all over the world to view the many pelagic birds that can be seen on this coast. It is not uncommon on a specialised birding trip to record as many as 35 to 40 different species including at least three to five albatross species, including the rare wandering albatross.
Today people not only had the opportunity to view the whales, dolphins and seabirds but some even took the plunge to swim with the dusky dolphins.
Again the weather was as near prefect for our “Kaikoura Experience.” Tired, sun-touched, memory cards full, people return to the ship having had, as one guest said, “A once in a lifetime experience” that will be with them always.