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

Kaikōura truly is a marine mecca. This week we’ve had some successful days out on the water, sighting Beaked Whales, Humpback Whales as well as the Mighty Sperm Whale! It’s so great to see the Humpback Whales still stopping in to say hello as they migrate past Kaikōura. This week we found them right off the Kaikōura Peninsula, making for a very short trip out to see them! When time allowed we also saw Dusky Dolphins, Hectors Dolphins and NZ Fur Seals on our tours, taking passengers to Barney’s Rock where a number of them reside.

Term 3 School Holidays are fast approaching, we advise you get a head start planning some fun activates for your kids now and utilise our School Holiday Special! From the 30th of September to the 15th of October 2017 (inclusive), kids travel with us for free with every full fare paying adult! Consider taking the time to visit Kaikōura and showing your tamariki the spectacular marine life on offer. Reserve your seats here before spaces fill up.

REGULAR, SCHEDULED CLOSURES OF STATE HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH OF KAIKOURA

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.

From Tuesday, 22nd August, drivers will need to watch for 28 metre truck loads moving bridge beams to Kaikōura, via the Lewis Pass and the inland road via Waiau/Mt Lyford. The beams are for a new bridge build as well as smaller bridge sites north of Kaikōura. Some minor delays can be expected due to the length of the load and the slow and winding nature of parts of the route. These truckloads are scheduled to follow this inland route until September.

Progress is continuing to be made on the repair of the Kaikōura Marina, with the modified trailer and public jetty now being used for launching our vessel Tohora. This is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. All our berths have now been removed. This is an end of an era but we are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! The use of the modified trailer and public jetty will continue until further notice. It is anticipated that our facilities will be restored in October 2017. Below is a graphic (indicative only) of what is being restored at the marina.

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, 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.

KAIKOURA 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

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.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.