How to Go Whale Watching in New Zealand’s Beautiful Kaikoura Coast

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Kaikoura is one of New Zealand’s best places for whale watching, and it also helps that it’s one of the most scenic destinations.

Kaikoura is one of New Zealand’s premier coastal tourist destinations. It is a magnificent resort located on the northeast coast of the majestic South Island. Here, the mountains drop directly into the sea and the waters teem with abundant wildlife. It is a key destination in any well-thought-out South Island trip. Kaikoura is also the best place in New Zealand for seafood and for charter fishing trips. The waters off the coast here are particularly rich and so it is these riches that bring fish and whales together in abundance and keep the sea here teeming with life.

About Kaikoura

  • Population: 2,400 (resident population, plus temporary tourists)
  • Appellation: In the native Maori language “Kai” = food, and “koura” = crayfish (aka lobster), hence “Crayfish Meal”


The abundance of marine life in Kaikoura is a result of the Hikurangi Trench bringing up riches from the depths to support marine life. Kaikoura is known in New Zealand for its abundant wildlife, the steep and jagged mountains seemingly dropping into the sea. It is also known as New Zealand’s best place for whale watching. Photos of whales and sightings in New Zealand were probably taken here.

Related: Hobbiton is on New Zealand’s North Island, and that’s all you need to know before you go

Like Queenstown to the south, Kaikoura is in a stunning setting with the Seaward Kaikoura mountain ranges forming the city’s backdrop. There are many hiking and 4×4 trails in the area. For those looking for a breathtaking hike, consider the Mount Fyffe trail, this trail offers magnificent panoramic views of the Kaikoura Peninsula and out to sea.


  • Note on local jargon: In New Zealand, “trails” are called “tracks” and “hiking” is called “tramping”
  • Note for ordering: When ordering a seafood dinner, remember that a “crayfish” in New Zealand is usually called a “lobster” in America.

Whale and marine life species in Kaikoura

The main species of whale seen in Kaikoura is the sperm whale (they are resident all year round). But there are many other types of whales that frequent these waters, including southern right whales, flippers, sei, blue whales, southern beaked whales, byrds, pilots, and humpback whales.

  • Whale Watching Modes: By Boat, Airplane, Helicopter

But Kaikoura is much more than just whales, there are dolphins (including common bottlenose dolphins, Rissos, Hectors, southern dolphins and dusky dolphins), seabirds (including albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters), killer whales (or orcas – technically also dolphins) and hordes of sloth fur seals lining the rocky shore. Some of the tour companies even offer dolphin swim tours – it offers a whole new experience.


Other activities in Kaikoura

  • Swim with dolphins
  • Charter Fishing Trips
  • Hiking and camping
  • Surfing
  • Spot fur seals along the shoreline
  • Scenic flights around the coastline and mountain ranges
  • South And North Wine Tasting (1 Hour + Road)

Related: Why New Zealand’s Bay of Islands is worth visiting and what to do when you get there

Whale Watching Tours

Kaikoura Whale Watching is a must-do activity that allows people to get up close to these majestic marine mammals as they feast and gorge themselves in the rich waters of Kaikoura. There are a number of excursions offered by local companies Kaikoura Whale Watching and Whale Watch. Here are some sample tours offered by Kaikoura Whale Watching.


Whale Watching Boat Tour

  • Type of visit: Marine tour by boat
  • Visiting hours: 7:15 a.m., 10:00 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.
  • Days: Every day except Christmas
  • Whales seen: Sperm whales (as well as fur seals, dusky dolphins, wandering albatrosses, humpback whales, pilot whales, southern right whales, blue whales, killer whales, Hector’s dolphins can all be spotted in the right season , with good luck)
  • Cost: $145.00 in New Zealand dollars per adult (US$102.00)
  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • To reimburse: 80% if no whales are seen

Airplane Whale Watching Tour

  • Type of visit: Aerial tour by plane
  • Visiting hours: Contact Kaikoura Whale Watching for this information
  • Whales seen: Sperm whales (plus possibly the other whales listed above)
  • Premium: If weather conditions are good, scenic flight over the mountains
  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Cost: $180.00 ($130.00)


Helicopter Whale Watching Tour

  • Type of visit: Helicopter aerial tour
  • Visiting hours: Contact Kaikoura Whale Watching for this information
  • Whales seen: Sperm whales and possibly many others listed above (the full length of the whale can be seen from above)
  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Cost: $325.00 NZD ($230.00 USD)
  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Cost: $395.00 NZD ($280.00 USD)
  • To note: Other helicopter tours available, and prices vary depending on helicopter occupancy

Whale watching is one of New Zealand’s most famous activities. New Zealand is a wonderful country to explore the rich marine life of the South Pacific Ocean. Continue the tour around the coasts and you are likely to see the different species of New Zealand penguins.

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