Canyon & Sub-tropical Environment

The waters off the Kaikōura Coast provide a unique habitat for sea-life. Comparisons have been made between the waters of the Kaikōura Coast and the Africa’s Serengeti Plain, such is the abundance of life found in the waters off the coast. But how is it that this part of New Zealand’s South Island coastline was such a great concentration of oceanic life?

Kaikōura coast at sunset.

The big deep

The Kaikōura Canyon is a submarine canyon located around 800 metres off the Kaikōura Coast.  It stretches for over 60 kilometres and reaches depths of up to 1200+ metres.  The canyon is part of the Kermadec Trench system which extends far out into the Pacific Ocean.  The trench has been formed as one of the Earth’s tectonic plates, the Hikurangi Plateau, slides beneath the Indo-Australian Plate.

A cold-water supermarket

As cold water moves along the base of the trench towards the coast, it begins to rise, bringing with it nutrients from the deep ocean.  The nutrients encourage a food chain which begins with tiny plankton and goes all the way up to the whales and dolphins you can see from your Whale Watch boat.  Deep water fish also follow the cold water currents, making Kaikōura such a spectacular place to go fishing.

On the waterline

Encouraged by the oceanic bounty of the trench, many species of mammal, birds and crustaceans flourish along the shallower fringes of the coast.  The fat New Zealand fur seals you can see basking on the rocks find all the food they need in amongst the kelpy reefs and deep fissures of the seabed.  And, of course, the creature which gave the region its name, the crayfish (kai = food; kōura =crayfish) flourish in the nutrient-rich waters.  The cliffs and crags of the coast and the Kaikōura Peninsula offer roosting-places for the myriad species of sea-birds which harvest the waters off the Kaikōura Coast; ocean-going seabirds congregate off-shore where schools of fish provide easy pickings

The skyline

Rearing almost straight out of the ocean, the Seaward Kaikōura Range and the Inland Kaikōura Range have been formed by the same immense pressures which have formed the Kaikōura Canyon.  As the Hikurangi Plateau pushes under the Indo-Australian Plate, it rumples the edge of the plate up just like a carpet being pushed up against a wall.  The resulting mountain ranges are spectacularly rugged and unstable, as the forces of erosion seek to tear them down as fast as the tectonic forces push them up.  The steep creeks and rivers which flow down from the ranges carry nutrients and minerals which further enrich the waters of the great oceanic supermarket off the Kaikōura Coast.

You can experience the breath taking scale of the Kaikōura Canyon while viewing our unique animation sequences aboard any Whale Watch tour.

An interpretation of the Kaikōura Canyon, New Zealand.

Animation interpretation of how the Kaikōura Canyon would look if the water was drained away

We had it all over the weekend – sunshine, wild wind, sleet, warmth, cold and beautiful new snow on the Kaikoura ranges. Despite the conditions over the weekend in the days leading up we had some great tours with sightings of semi-resident sperm whales Manu and Tiaki and hen time allowed we also saw dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins, NZ fur seals and marine birds.

The most recent update on State Highway 1 South from Kaikoura is that it is expected to remain closed till the end of May to allow the construction of a temporary road and rail alignment around the base of the large landslide that came down during April’s heavy rain at Easter. Please allow extra time as you travel through Inland Route 70 which remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

As we enter into the cooler winter months it is a good reminder to take extra care on the roads and to check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling.

Progress is being made on the repair of the Kaikōura Marina and we continue to switch between using a berth and our modified trailer unit for launching our vessel Tohorā, when and where possible we are also making use of the public jetty that we have modified, this is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. It is anticipated that the Kaikōura Marina will be fully restored by October 2017.

Dredging of the outer channel of the Kaikōura marina is well advanced.

Currently our available tour times are based around the tide times on the day and may differ from the tour times originally advertised, please bear with us as we continue to work toward being fully operational again. For an update on the tour times available please contact our Customer Service team directly either by email on res@whalewatch.co.nz or phone +64 3 319 6767 or free phone 0800 655 121 (within NZ) and they will be able to help you with your inquiry.  Please note we are operating at a reduced capacity in the interim with up to 3 tours available per day, please contact our team prior to arriving in Kaikōura to secure a space on one of our tours and to save disappointment.

Kaikōura Business Update:

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.

Transport Update:

All subject to weather conditions, slips, repair work and seismic activity. Updates available from the NZTA WEBSITE.

Intercity, Hasslefree Tours & Canterbury Leisure Tours 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.

Please consider taking the time to visit Kaikōura, your support is most welcome.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.