Toki, a male Sperm Whale who lives in the deep undersea canyon off the Kaikoura coast on New Zealand’s South Island, made my day today. Toki was the only whale sighted on my afternoon tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura, but that didn’t matter a scrap. The last time I came to do this tour, bad weather saw it cancelled and a tight travelling schedule made another chance impossible. Today made up for it.
Kaikoura is a small town on a small peninsula jutting into the Pacific Ocean, overlooked by towering snow-capped mountains. Sperm whales are seen year-round, along with other species including dolphins, seals, sea lions and five kinds of albatross. Today, I saw them all, and I’ve got the photos to prove it.
Whales play a significant role in Maori culture, and taking part in a whale watch tour will ensure you learn a lot about their importance to Maori. The Kati Kuri people, a sub-tribe of 80 per cent the South Island’s larger Ngai Tahu tribe own and operate Whale Watch Kaikoura, a Green Globe certified company.
Whale Watch Kaikoura plays an important part in this town’s history. The company was formed in 1987 at a time when Maori were casualties of Kaikoura’s declining economy. Young people were leaving for the cities and unemployment was high. Kati Kuri leaders believed the resident Sperm Whales were the solution to the town’s problems. They knew their ancestor Paikea had journeyed to a new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohora and decided it was time for Paikea’s descendants to ride on the back of whales too.
The Kati Kuri founders of Whale Watch mortgaged their houses to secure a loan to start the business. And as they say, the rest is history. Today the Whale Watch fleet is four modern catamarans specially designed for whale watching and Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of New Zealand’s leading tourism experiences. The town as a whole is booming again, with the increase in tourist numbers leading to new accommodation, restaurants, cafes and galleries.
Whale Watch Kaikoura is New Zealand’s only whale watching company offering visitors a close encounter with the giant Sperm Whale, year-round. Tours operate daily, with a 95 per cent success rate. If your tour doesn’t see a whale, they’ll refund 80 per cent of your ticket price.
Toki’s tail rose high as he dived. And on the way home, my heart seemed to jump as high as the frolicking pod of Dusky Dolphins who kept us company. Some things are worth waiting for.
A Glass Half Full travelled as a guest of Tourism New Zealand.