Out on the Water with the World's Largest Toothed Predators

Kaikōura is a small, picturesque coastal town located on the East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The landscapes and seascapes which surround the town create some serious Instagram #FeedGoals. Throw in a few whales and dolphins into the mix and your travel snaps will be the envy of all your friends back home.

Whale Watch Kaikoura's Instagram feed

Kaikōura is the whale watching capital of New Zealand, known for its diverse marine life encounters and topping any list of ‘things to do’ when visiting New Zealand, let alone if you’re venturing down to the South Island. Whale Watch is New Zealand's only marine-based whale watching company offering visitors an exciting up-close encounter with the Giant Sperm Whale at all times of the year.

Sperm Whales are found in all the world’s oceans, usually in submarine canyons of waters deeper than 400 metres, which is why they can be viewed off Kaikōura’s Coast all year round. The Kaikoura Canyon stretches for over 60 kilometres and reaches depths of up to 1200+ metres, providing a nutrient rich feeding ground for male Sperm Whales.

Heading out by boat to see these whales is one of the most exhilarating and adrenaline-charged feelings you’ll experience. With their feeding grounds starting so close to shore (not even 1km off the Coast!) the seated boat ride can be short lived before the Sea Crew announce that you’re in the whales’ territory and they’re stopping to listen underwater by hydrophone for clicks while you’re outside scanning the surface for the trips first whale.

Whale Watch boat

Whale Watch averages 1-2 whale sightings per trip, with the most frequent species sighted being the Sperm Whale, the largest of the toothed whales and the biggest ocean carnivore out in the waters deep. Male Sperm Whales in Kaikōura average the length of the vessel you’re standing on, 18 meters, giving you a great size comparison. They have a pretty long life span too, about as long as people, living up to 70 years old. Some Sperm Whales, such as Tutu and Tiaki, have been seen in Kaikōura for 20+ years, earning them serious local status.

Whales tail

Sperm whale breathing

Their teeth can be as long as a human adults forearm – imagine 50 of them?! Not to worry though, they’re not a fan of the human variety. Their favourite food is The Giant Squid and it’s not uncommon to see new markings and scars on semi-residential Sperm Whales that are thought to be battle wounds from taking on their Number 1 food source.

Pulling up next to the whale, the engine is idled or switched off and the narrator turns off her mic to let you take in this once in a lifetime encounter. Listening to their breathing and feeling the sea spray on your face is a truly humbling and awe-inspiring experience. And when they take their last breath before they dive down for their next meal, you get to see that breath-taking fluke shot that you see plastered all over Whale Watch’s Instagram.

Sperm Whale in Kaikoura, New Zealand

To top off the experience, when time allows in between the whales dive, Whale Watch takes you to see Dusky Dolphin pods. In Autumn and Winter pod sizes are at their greatest, numbering anywhere between 100 individuals to 1,000. For this reason, Kaikōura is recognised as one of the best places in the world to regularly encounter wild dolphins in their natural habitat.

Dusky dolphins in Kaikoura by Haley Baxter

Hectors Dolphins and NZ Fur Seals are also regularly sighted on Whale Watch tours. If your tour doesn’t have time? Not a problem, the Kaikōura Seal Colony is home to a number of seals and if you wander down to the beach after you check in for your whale watching tour you can sometimes catch the Hectors frolicking along the shore line outside Whale Watch’s offices.

Hectors Dolphins

New Zealand Fur Seal

Depending on the time of year that you plan to go whale watching, there’s also the added bonus of the chance to see other migrating species such as Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, Pilot Whales and Orca. Talk about a marine mecca! No wonder Whale Watch has a 95% success rate.

Orca jumping out from the water sighted during a whale watch tour in Kaikoura

If you’re one of those travellers that like to head off the beaten track, then detour off State Highway 1 and take the Alpine Pacific Touring Route. This route features the very best of what North Canterbury has to offer. Starting from Christchurch, head to the bustling Waipara Valley Wine region to sample some award-winning Pinot’s, before soaking in the infamous thermal pools in Hanmer Springs and finishing up with some spectacular marine life encounters in Kaikōura. Drink, relax and explore your way through one of the country’s most picturesque routes and take in the vibrant beauty characteristic of the ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ visitor experience.

Alpine Pacific Touring Route

A true slice of paradise for not only the whales and locals, but also welcomed visitors. The natural wonders of Kaikōura are simply unbeatable. We look forward to seeing you in beautiful Kaikōura and joining us out on the water.

Kaikoura sunrise

We had some stunning weather over the weekend along with some great sightings on our tours. Not only were we able to see sperm whales but also the rare opportunity of seeing a pod of beaked whales pass by the Kaikōura coastline. Not a common sight at all and one that is very treasured by all when we do.

Over the weekend we also had a visit from a couple of the crew from Emirates Team New Zealand with the America’s Cup. It was great to have the opportunity to see the cup up close. Check out this video to see how the afternoon went.

The Huttons Shearwater (Tītī) are special to us in Kaikōura. Their habitat sustained considerable loss during the Nov 2016 earthquake. Please take the time to vote for them as Bird of the Year and this status will help secure the much needed funding for more research so we can plan for their future.


The highway will be open during daylight hours on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (perfect for a long weekend getaway) from 7AM to 7PM.

The highway will be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for repairs to take place. 

The closure schedule is expected to remain in place until December 2017.

There is a possibility of short delays and it will be 30km/hour through parts of the route. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. Inland Route 70 remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Please be aware that this week is a full closure week - Monday 16 to Friday 20 October. The road will reopen to the public midday on Friday 20 October for Labour weekend travellers. Another full week closure is scheduled for Monday 6 to Friday 10 November. 

Something worth celebrating...

Restoration work on the Kaikoura marina begun 10 months ago, and over the weekend we celebrated being able to now use berth 3 & 4. We have been using our trailer unit & the public jetty for some time now so to be able to pull up into our berths is quite an exciting feat. We still have a wee way to go but this is a HUGE step closer to being fully operational. We are very thankful for the amazing work the harbour repair crew are doing in what are at times trying conditions. We are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! We cannot thank the tireless effort that the workers have put in to get us to this stage especially in what has been trying conditions at times.

More great news…

We thank you all for your patience over the last 11 months with the changing tour times with having work in line with the tides but with being able to now use berth 3 & 4 it means that we are now back running on our original fixed tour timetable. 0715, 1000, 1245 & 1530 (Nov-Mar)


Kaikōura is open for business. For latest updates on accommodation, restaurant and retail information please contact the team at the Kaikōura I-Site who will be able to help you find what suits your needs during your stay in Kaikōura. 


Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch, as well as Kiwi Experience now having the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers.

Progress on the work being done on roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on this dedicated KAIKOURA EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE page provided by the team at NZTA. This page is updated weekly on Friday. Work is also starting to take place on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

11 months on and we are starting to see some real progress – the teams out on the road, rail and the marina are all doing such an amazing job for which we are so thankful. And, we cannot thank you all enough for your continual support.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura