Stories about the Community

History of Kaikōura both Māori & European

Legend has it that Maui used the Kaikōura Peninsula as a foothold to brace himself when he fished the North Island out of the sea. 

From this comes the Peninsula’s earliest name: Te Taumanu o te Waka a Maui, the thwart or seat of Maui’s canoe. The name Kaikōura means “eat crayfish”, recalling the occasion when Tama ki te Raki had a meal of crayfish here, pausing on his journey around the South Island in pursuit of his three runaway wives.

The Peninsula, providing abundant food and shelter, is rich in over 800 years of Māori tradition. The earliest Māori hunted moa and sheltered in coastal caves. A grave found in the 1850s revealed the skeleton of a man holding the largest complete moa egg ever discovered and a pakohe (argillite) adze. As moa numbers declined, gardening became more important and settlements more permanent. Fortifications were built on hilltops as lookout points and for shelter in case of attack. There are at least fourteen pa sites on the Peninsula, most of which were occupied for short periods only and witnessed some fierce battles. Today Ngāi Tahu occupy the area at Takahanga Marae in the township.

Both Māori and Pakeha have found Kaikōura ideal for settlement, relying on the bountiful harvest of food from the ocean and the shelter afforded by the Peninsula. The whaling industry attracted the earliest European settlers to the area. Whales occur here because of the unusually deep waters close to shore, some pausing in their migration from feeding grounds in Antarctic waters to breeding grounds in the warm sub-tropical seas of the Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand. Robert Fyffe established the first shore-whaling station, Waiopuka, in 1843; other stations were built soon after in South Bay.

Due to the pressure of the whaling industry, whale numbers steadily declined after 1850 and it became uneconomic to exploit them. Today, with marine mammals in New Zealand being fully protected, the whales again find Kaikōura a safe environment. Kaikōura is now internationally renowned as a whale-watching location.

Whale watch vessel, Paikea Whale Rider.

Fyffe House, standing on piles made from whalebone vertebrae, provides a link with Kaikōura’s whaling days. It was built by George Fyffe in 1860 and is situated on the way to the northern end of the Walkway. The house is a Historic Places Trust property and is open to the public.

For many years, the town’s main link with the outside world was its official port of entry; now, all that remains of the former customhouse is an old brick chimney near Fyffe House. Because the overland routes and bridle tracks were hard-going, most people and freight travelled by sea, often braving inclement weather and the perilous coast, which could take a heavy toll on a small coastal vessel. Eventually, access by land improved and, in 1931, the port closed. In 1945 the Christchurch to Picton railway opened, complete with 21 tunnels.

Like other small towns, Kaikōura suffered from the economic recession of the 1980s. However, since then, an increased number of visitors, attracted mainly by the opportunities provided to observe marine mammals close at hand, has brought increased prosperity to the area.

Old brick chimney by Fyffe House, Kaikōura, New Zealand.

Old brick chimney by Fyffe House


Māori Culture in Kaikōura

The original Māori name for Kaikōura was ‘Te Koha O Marokura’ (The gift of Marokura).  Marokura was a God that shaped the area with a magical sword.  Marokura also shaped the underwater trenches and canyons, thus carving out a home for the many Whales, Dolphins and other sea life that lives here today.

It was the abundance of food that brought early settlement to the area and Māori have lived along this coastline for more than 900 years.  Hidden in the beauty of today’s landscape are many relics of the past and stories waiting to be told.

The original inhabitants were the ‘Waitaha’ who were later joined by the ‘Kati Mamoe’ people. Both tribes lived together harmoniously until around 350 years ago when the Ngāi Tahu sub tribe ‘Ngāti Kuri’ arrived in the area.  There were a number of battles before the ‘Waitaha’ and ‘Kati Mamoe’ eventually gave up rights over these lands to ‘Ngāti Kurii’ in one of only a few peaceful takeovers in New Zealand’s Māori history. 

Today descendants of all three tribes still reside in Kaikōura and have a living and vibrant culture.

A more modern name from which today’s Kaikōura is derived is Te Ahi Kaikōura a Tama ki Te Rangi (the fire that cooked the crayfish of Tama ki Te Rangi).  Tama ki Te Rangi visited the area in pursuit of his runaway wives – but that’s a whole new story that ends on the West coast of the South Island.

Roadside caravan selling fresh crayfish, Kaikōura, New Zealand.

Roadside caravan selling fresh crayfish caught daily


Story behind the Our People image

The ‘Our People’ image is a strong statement about cultural relationship. We hope the image draws people in to think about what is about to happen, there is an obvious relationship between the warrior diving and the Tohorā (the whale) – which is of course the Paikea story. All the while creating a sense of the depth of the trench and the interplay of air, sea and light. A sense of being suspended in time. 

Whale Watch Kaikoura: Our People image commissioned by Dean Whiting

Our People image commissioned by Dean Whiting

Winter has bought with it some amazing scenery for our tours, with the snow-capped mountains making for a jaw-dropping background for our guests’ photos. Last week’s whale watch trips had some spectacular sightings, including Humpback Whales being spotted playing with hundreds of Dusky Dolphins on Wednesday and Thursday! We sighted four Humpbacks on our tours this week as we continue to see them stop in for a quick visit to Kaikoura on their way to breed and give birth in Northern warmer waters.

Monday and Wednesday’s tours sighted pods of up to five Sperm Whale, with tours this week also spotting semi-resident Sperm Whales Tiaki, Tutu, Saddleback, Aotearoa and Matimati feeding in the Hikurangi Trench. Each of these whales can be distinguished by the different shaped dorsal fins, tail shapes, marks and scars they have which we get a good view of when they are on top of the water oxygenating and also when they dive down to feed.

When time allowed, our tours have also seen pods of Dusky and Hector’s Dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals and various marine birds including the Shy Mollymawk and the Caspian Tern. These birds look like gulls, with dark wing tips and large red bills. In New Zealand, Caspian Terns frequent sheltered bays and harbours of the main islands, but are also seen regularly at inland lakes and rivers. As Caspian Trends don’t breed in Kaikōura, the birds seen here are likely to be from the breeding colonies at the Wairau lagoons or Lake Ellesmere.

Don’t forget, the annual photography competition for Kaikōura’s 48 Hours in Kaikoura takes place next weekend on the 5th and 6th of August so make the trip and bring your camera to capture Kaikōura’s amazing natural wonders and marine life. This year there will be new seascapes and landscapes featured for the first time since the November Earthquake which will make for some new and interesting competition. There are categories for both amateurs and professional photographers so there’s no excuse not to join in on the fun!

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. Inland Route 70 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 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 the Kaikōura Marina will be fully restored in October 2017.

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

IntercityHasslefree 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.