Kaikoura, New Zealand

The next morning, after saying goodbye to Corrine and Jade, Tabitha and I boarded the bus ready for our next destination, Kaikoura. It was a couple of hours drive away, but as always, the scenery was beautiful.
Kaikoura is known to be the capital of all marine life in New Zealand and the place to visit if you want to experience dolphins, whales, sharks and orcas to name a few.
Kaikoura literally translates from Maori as ‘eat crayfish’ and relates to the abundance of crayfish in the region. The reason for the plethora of marine life in the Kaikoura region is due to the presence of the Hikurangi trench.

When we arrived in Kaikoura we stopped of at the view point which gave us fantastic views across the area.

We then made our way into the town and checked into our hostel for the night; the Lazy Shag. I couldn’t get over the beautiful mountainous backdrop towering over the town.

We had the option of signing up for a couple of excursions whilst we were in Kaikoura; a swimming with dolphins experience or a whale watching tour. Unfortunately we soon were notified that the dolphin trip had been cancelled as the tour company had not been able to locate the normal pod of dusky dolphins. I therefore signed up for the whale watching tour and made my way down to the HQ, the old town train station which had aptly been renamed as the ‘whaleway station’.

This was the first excursion that I had ended up doing on my own and it felt a little weird being solo after nearly a month in a big group!
After a short safety presentation (and a sea sickness tablet as provided by the crew) we made our way across to the pier and boarded the Paikea.

We were taken 20 minutes or so away from the shore and all I can say is I understand why sea sickness tablets were handed out – the boat was literally up and down up and down!
Once we were in the right area the captain explained that the crew use GPS trackers in the first instance to locate the rough location of sperm whales. Once they know they’re in the correct area an underwater microphone is used to listen out for the echoes the whales transmit in order to locate their prey. Soon enough the captain was out on deck and using the underwater microphone. ‘I can hear one’ he said to another of the crew members! Luck was on our side.

Due to the colder waters in Kaikoura it is only the male sperm whales that come to feed here. These males average at around 15 metres long and can dive for up to. 2.5 hours at depths of up to 3025meters. Once the whales have completed their dives they come back up to the surface for roughly 10 minutes to dispel any excess carbon dioxide before diving again. This is time to try and spot them!
Luckily for us we had three whale sightings whilst we were on the boat. It was literally the most amazing sight to witness the plooms of water they shoot up and the huge tails plunge into the depths!

The crew were obviously extremely knowledgeable about the whales and it was really interesting to learn all about the fascinating creatures. Sperm whales have a varied diet and eat anything from seals to dolphins, crustaceans and sharks. Apparently a sperm whale can eat a 2-3 meter shark whole with no problem! The whales favourite food however is the squid, of which there are 16 varieties in New Zealand. Kaikoura has an abundance of giant squids in the area which is another reason for the attraction of sperm whales here.

The most interesting fact I think that we learnt was the reasoning behind the naming of the sperm whale. Sperm whales house over 2.5 tonnes of white oil in their heads which they use to remit echoes in order to locate their prey. Historically this oil was the reason for the hunting of the whales. The oil had many different uses from lubricants to fuel for oil lighting and was therefore really valuable. Early whalers, on discovery of this oil, believed that it was for reproductive uses – hence the name sperm whales. It wasn’t until they discovered that female whales also embodied this oil that they realised the mistake that they had made. Unfortunately by this point the name had stuck…

Not only did we see sperm whales on the trip we also saw a very playful pod of dusty dolphins who could not get enough of jumping and swimming around the boat – it was amazing!

Our luck just kept coming and a little while later we saw a pod of hectors dolphins. Hectors dolphins are the smallest dolphins in the world and are native to New Zealand. The dolphins only reproduce once every 8 years and with only 4,000 left in the wild are now classed as an endangered species. I was particularly pleased to see them as we had stopped off a week or so earlier in Ship Creek  to try and catch a glimpse of the resident pod but were unlucky due to high winds. Even though this pod were really shy compared to the dusty Dolphins they were completely amazing to see

We also caught a glimpse of the wandering albatross – the largest of its species. If I’m honest it was just a big seagull but was nice to see none the less.

Although I was a little disappointed not to see any orcas or sharks the trip was completely amazing and I’m so pleased I did it (and that I survived with not a hint of seasickness – some on the boat were not so lucky!) Ultimately it was a bit of a shame that the dolphin trip was cancelled due to a lack of dolphins when we happened to see so many!

That evening Tabitha and I met up with Guy and had another fab evening out which, as seems a recurring them, after an abortive movie session, ended up in an AM bedtime.

The next morning Guy took us across to one of the waterfalls in the area where the baby seals congregate – it was amazing! They were so playful and got so close to us!

Sadly this stay in Kaikoura pretty much brought my Kiwi Experience to an end. I’ll still be travelling up on the bus with Guy to Auckland via Wellington and Taupo but as these are places I’ve already visited it very much feels like New Zealand is coming to a close…I can’t believe I’ve got so attached to a place in just one month. New Zealand literally is the most stunning, fun and friendly place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting so far. I cannot wait to come back some day! Next stop… Australia!

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