Why Whale Watch Kaikoura Needs To Be #1 On Your Bucket List!

New Zealand is one of those few places in the world that’s on every traveller’s list of dream destinations.  And with good reason!

There’s so much to see and do that will take your breath away.  It often feels like every time you turn a corner your jaw drops in awe.  Seriously, do some jaw exercises before you go!

So where do you begin?

At the very top of your New Zealand to-do list needs to be Whale Watch Kaikoura.  This is unlike any other whale watching tour you’ve done in the past.  For starters, it’s the only place you can go watch sperm whales … yes Moby Dick himself!

Sperm Whales in Kaikoura?

Sperm whales are the largest toothed whale, and largest toothed predator in the world …. yes, they can even prey on the great white shark, though their preferred meal is the giant squid.  They routinely dive to depths of 2,000 feet for up to 45 minutes.

Kaikoura, on the East Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, is one of the few places in the world where male sperm whales congreate year-round.  This is thanks to the 3km deep Kaikoura Canyon that is located only 800m off the coast.

who’s whale watch Kaikoura?

Whale Watch Kaikoura is billed as “New Zealand’s ultimate marine experience”, and I’d have to agree 100%.

Whale Watch was formed in 1987 as an answer to the unemployment problems of the Maori community.  They’ve come a long way from that original small, inflatable vessel to the 5 modern catamarans used today.  These catamarans are specifically designed to enhance the whale watching experience and equiped with engines that minimize underwater noise.  I love their philosophy that we are here to observe as guests, and it’s our responsibility to ensure we leave no impact.

Observe as guests. Leave no impact. #WhaleWatchKaikoura #ttot Click To Tweet

The stars of each Whale Watch tour are the sperm whales, and they average 1-2 whale sightings per trip, but the marine life in this area doesn’t stop there.  This is a migration route frequented by many whale species such as Blue, Sei, Humpback and Orca.  It’s also a playground for many types of dolphins and seals.  As if that wasn’t enough, Kaikoura is also home to many sea bird species such as petrals and albatross.

Every tour is different, but the crew really goes out of their way to ensure your visit will be special and memorable.

What to expect

Whale Watch Kaioura is a pretty popular attraction, so be sure to reserve your spot online before you show up.  This is especially true in the summer months (mid-December to April).  Upon booking you’ll be given a time to check-in.  I recommend you arrive early so you have time to explore the area a bit on your own, though you can also do this after your tour.

Flukes Seaside Cafe is a great spot to get prepared.  They have free wifi and a patio overlooking the ocean for your to enjoy a quick drink or bite to eat.  Flukes also has a few TV’s listing the up-to-date status of upcoming tours so you sit back and relax.  If you’re like us, you’ll be happy to know that there are LOTS of outlets around the cafe where you can charge your cameras and other devices!

1. At check-in time go to the registration desk to get a boarding ticket for your tour from one of the friendly staff.  It’s not recommended that you check in early, and you’ll likely be turned away if it’s not your time yet.  With up to 45 people per tour, and only 30 minutes between some tours, this is the best way to ensure everyone is served in a timely manner. 

Note that if you’d like to take sea-sickness medication, you can buy some in the gift-shop.  It’s recommended, but not mandatory … we took it 🙂


2. Following check-in you will be directed to the safety briefing room, which will officially start your tour.  Here you’ll sit with the rest of the members of your tour and get a quick overview about what you’re about to experience, as well as any last minute rules and safety checks you need to be aware of.

3. It’s time to board the bus!  The Whale Watch Coach will transport everyone on your tour from the check-in office to South Bay Harbour where the catamarans await.  The trip takes 8-10 minutes along the beautiful Kaikoura coastline.  This is where you can FEEL the excitement building!

4. Follow your Whale Watch Sea Crew staff member to your awaiting catamaran, find your seat, and get ready for the experience of a lifetime!

Find your seat?  That’s right, while the vessel is in motion you must be sitting down.  There will be plenty of time to explore while you’re stopped, and the huge windows make sure you won’t miss anything.  Plus, the catamarans cruise along at 60km/h and can literally stop in 1 boat’s length … you don’t want to be standing when that happens.

The crew for your tour will consist of the Captain (driving the boat), Health & Safety Officer (ensuring everyone is okay), Watch Keeper (actively watching for whales and other marine life), and Narrator (providing great information about what you’re experiencing).  They will be some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet!

Our Experience

To sum up our experience in 1 word: INCREDIBLE!

I feel very fortunate to have been on this tour.  We spotted our first Sperm Whale almost as soon as we reached the underwater canyon.  After watching the whale for a few moments we were told it was actually sleeping and there wouldn’t be any activity (other than occasionally breathing) for up to an hour.  Thanks to monitoring activities from previous tours it was expected that another whale should be resurfacing shortly from an earlier dive.  After some searching, we found him!  This second Sperm Whale didn’t disappoint, as after 5 minutes or so he decided to dive again, and displayed his huge tail for all to see!

Shortly after losing sight of this amazing creature our crew received word that pods of Pilot Whales were in the area.  We immediately headed out to where they were spotted.  While enjoying these whales, we saw that there was a calf among the pods too.  Not to be outdone, a couple of New Zealand Fur Seals showed up to play among the whales.  Every so often a Royal Albatross or Petral would fly overhead, displaying their huge wingspans.  At one point we even had a huge Sei Whale swim right past the boat.

As we headed back to the marina everyone was overjoyed with what we had experienced … but we weren’t done yet!

A short distance from shore a group of Hector’s Dolphins came to escort us for a short while.  Then, right before entering the marina we spotted another New Zealand Fur Seal … this one was wrestling an Octopus!  The seal eventually won the fight and gulped down the octopus in a cloud of ink.

Yes, we were beside ourselves with all that we had just witnessed. But it wasn’t just us … the crew was overjoyed too!

To be clear, what we saw on our tour was beyond the average Whale Watch tour.  Even the crew couldn’t believe how much marine-life we were able to pack into our 2.5 hours!

Here’s the list of what we saw:


  • 2 Sperm Whales (1 was sleeping)
  • Pods of Pilot Whales
  • 1 Sei Whale


  • Petral
  • Royal Albatross


  • Hector’s Dolphins
  • New Zealand Fur Seal (eating an octopus)

Looking for whales

Listening for whales

A sperm whale tooth!

Pilot Whales

Royal Albatross

I really can’t say enough about Whale Watch Kaikoura.  Sure they’re blessed with one of the world’s most spectacular locales, but it’s more than that.  The staff and crew were all incredibly knowledgeable and friendly.  They’ve really got your best interests at heart, and go out of their way to ensure each tour is the best it can possibly be. 

From start to finish, Whale Watch exceeded every expectation I had.  Now, I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same amazing experience we did, but I can guarantee you that they’ll do everything they can to ensure your tour is the absolute best possible.

Have you been whale watching?  If so, let me know where you went and how it compares to Whale Watch Kaikoura!

Be sure to comment below and let me know what experience tops your travel bucket list!

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Whale Watch Kaikoura – New Zealand’s ultimate marine experience.  Book your excursion today!

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