‘Thar She Blows!’ The cry goes out and our cruise boat heads off in hot pursuit of a broaching sperm whale.
The skipper adroitly positions the vessel parallel to the mammoth creature, staying the mandatory distance away. Our guide gives a shout of warning as the whale prepares to sound. Twenty cameras click in unison as the gigantic tail flukes rise majestically into the air, releasing a stream of water that glistens in the sunlight, before the monster plunges into the depths.
Later we see a pod of Hector’s dolphins (the smallest and rarest species) and two bottlenose dolphins. Other species often seen here are dusky dolphins, humpback and pilot whales and orcas, along with royal and wandering albatrosses, mollymawks, gannets and petrels.
Kaikoura is placed in a superb coastal setting with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and a front door to an incredibly rich marine environment. The continental shelf is near the coast here, so nutrients carried up from Antarctic waters provide feeding grounds of krill for the marine mammals. Legions of crayfish march over the seabed to this productive area, hence the Maori name Kaikoura, meaning ‘a place for eating crayfish.’
Wildlife tours abound and you can consort with creatures in many ways. Swimming with dolphins is an exciting interaction with these streamlined back-flipping circus performers. Seals dart to and fro in a graceful ballet. Seabird spotting is also popular and aerial spotting is part of the smorgasbord selection for mammal watchers.
For trampers, the challenge is Mt Fyffe, which dominates Kaikoura, and rewards climbers with scintillating views over the entire coastline, the ocean and its myriad creatures.
Kaikoura is a mecca for wildlife enthusiasts and a scenic gem from any angle – sea level or mountain summit. The undersea canyons yield a truly amazing variety of marine life for which this little town is world-renowned. Make a note to put it on your itinerary.