Whaling History

Painted in its original pink, Fyffe House is all that remains of the Kaikōura whaling industry. The town's oldest surviving building, it has changed little since the 1860s.

Built literally upon foundations of whale vertebrae, Fyffe House provides a rare opportunity for visitors to feel the small-roomed confines of a whaler's cottage, touch whale bones and baleen and even smell the fragrant aroma of whale oil.

Fyffee House. Kaikōura whaling history.

Fyffe House, Kaikōura

European settlement of Kaikōura began in 1842 when Scotsman Robert Fyfe established a whaling station. His cousin George Fyffe (they spelt their surnames differently) joined Robert later. The cousins employed many local Māori men in their whaling crews along with whalers from Australia, Great Britain, North America, France, Germany, Hawaii and India. Many of these foreign whalers married local Ngāi Tahu women and their descendants live in Kaikōura today.

Harpooned whales, mostly Southern Right Whales, were dragged to a large rock shelf in the bay near Fyffe House and their flesh removed and boiled down for oil. Southern Right Whales were already rare in the 1840s and their numbers soon collapsed. At this time George Fyffe and many of the whalers turned to sheep and dairy farming to make a living. Farming soon became the mainstay of the local economy until whale watching began in 1987 and shifted the emphasis back to whales.

Humpback and Sperm whales sustained a small whaling industry in Kaikōura until the early 20th century. Whales were still being hunted in other South Island locations until commercial whaling ended in New Zealand in 1964.

Whale bone arches at the Memorial Gardens in Kaikōura.

Whale bone arches at the Memorial Gardens in Kaikōura


Whale bone arches at the Memorial Gardens in Kaikōura

Robert Fyffe began shore-whaling at the Kaikōura Whaling Station in the year 1841, but at that time the ownership had not been settled until he entered into a partnership agreement with businessman John Murray and others in 1842.

They were offered the use of the Coalheaver Station on Mana Island, Nr. Wellington, but refused the offer, as they were aware that the whaling results were poor in that area.

Fyffe was left to run the whaling station and gradually Murray dropped out of the whaling scene to run his sheep station. Murray was unfortunately drowned in 1845 and his brother took over running both the sheep station and the whaling business. Fyffe later became the sole owner of the Kaikōura Whaling Station and purchased the South Bay station in late 1845. He reported a good catch for the next two seasons, selling his whale oil and bone to the Wellington firm of Waiitt & Tyser in 1845-46, who shipped it on to England.

The Fyffe Whaling Station at Kaikōura continued operations for many years; the demand for whale oil on the world markets weakened slightly as the supply of gas and electricity became readily available for the average homeowner and the whale lamps were stored away in cupboards for the odd emergency. Sealskin hats and collars had long gone out of fashion so this trade also declined rapidly.

A group attending a tour at Fyffe House to learn about Kaikōura whaling history.

A tour of Fyffe House really brings home just how raw and harsh life was back in the whaling days.

Kia Ora Friends

***WHALE WATCH KAIKOURA UPDATE***

Kaikōura is as beautiful as ever with so much on offer. Over the last week we have had opportunities to view a pod of orca, a humpback whale, an Erect Crested & Yellow-Eyed Penguin as well as our commonly sighted sperm whales, dusky dolphins, NZ fur seals and amazing marine birds on our tours. We are certainly well worth considering when planning your next holiday.

Progress is being made on repairs to the Kaikōura Marina and we continue to switch between using a berth and our modified trailer unit for launching our vessel Tohorā, this is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. Launching from the trailer is how we loaded our passengers in the old days of whale watching.

Currently our available tour times are based around the tide times on the day and may differ from the tour times originally advertised (please note we are working hard at being able to return to a fixed tour schedule from Mon 27th Feb 2017  – please watch this space). 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 operating 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 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.

Again we thank you for your patience as we continue to work toward being back fully functional, but for now we are very thankful for the ability to be able to take the people we can out whale watching.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.