Kaikoura is one of those must places to visit in New Zealand. Although I love all of New Zealand so maybe I am just biased! If you’ve not heard of Kaikoura, let me tell you a bit about it. You’ve got snow topped mountains, rolling green hills and stunning coastal walks. But what makes it different to the rest of idyllic New Zealand? It has the deepest ocean closest to their main land. And this means whale watching in Kaikoura is one of the most popular tourist attractions to do there.
whale watching in Kaikoura is one of the most popular tourist attractions to do there.
But there are two options for seeing these beautiful creatures so which one do you choose?
- Option 1 – Boat tour
- Option 2 – Flight tour
My decision was slightly influenced by my brother on this occasion. He called to enquire and within minutes we were booked on own chartered flight. I’m not exaggerating, my sister and I had ordered a coffee and cake when he ran back to say they were picking us up in 10 minutes!
Whale watching in Kaikoura from a plane
Our booking was with Air Kaikoura, they picked us up and took us to the small air strip a few miles away. Our lovely guide Terry explained to us why whale watching in Kaikoura is so good. Basically, there’s a deep canyon very close to the mainland.
The Kaikoura Canyon is a submarine canyon situated 500 metres off the coast to the south-east of the peninsula. It is 60 km long and up to 1200 m deep. It merges into a deep ocean channel that stretches for hundreds of kilometres. This means it’s great for seeing marine life, including dolphins and whales. You can also swim with dolphins too. That was the following day’s activity!
There’s a demonstration how to put on a life vest on. And then we are off. Climbing into the back of the tiny plane. It has 4 seats so one for each of us and then the pilot. Next we put on our big headsets to protect our ears and to communicate during the flight.
One thing I had not factored in when booking the whale watching flight in Kaikoura was the bonus of the scenic flight. The air strip is parallel to the ocean. From one window you can see the vast ocean and the other the beautiful green hills and snow-capped mountains beyond.
Just the flight is exciting. I know most of us have all been in planes before but this mini plane is such a unique experience. You can see from the big grins on our faces what an amazing time we were having. I was busy admiring the view that I had forgotten that we were on a whale watching tour!
What are the chances of seeing a Sperm whale?
Back to the whale watching. So no flight ever guarantees that you will see a whale (it’s about 95% chance so pretty high). But the beauty of being in a plane is that you can cover such a vast area and pretty quickly. Also the tour companies work with each other and let each other know when a whale has surfaced.
A call came over the radio there was a pod of 200-300 dusky dolphins so our pilot flew us straight there. We could see the tiny dots splashing around. It was great to see them over such a huge area. Sometimes there are pods of over 1000. Wow that would be amazing to see!
there was a pod of 200-300 dusky dolphins
Another call comes in on the radio, it’s a whale. At last! We fly over to the spot but just in time to see the whale dive and his tail disappear back into the deep ocean. The whales dive for between 30 minutes and 2 hours so we’ll have to find another whale on this trip.
Soon after another radio call comes through. This is it, another whale has just surfaced. A 17 metre sperm whale, wow it is a wonderful sight. From seeing the tiny dolphins earlier you get a good perspective of his size.
So we have an even better view of the whale our awesome pilot does circles around the whale. We are almost on full tilt, which is pretty exciting in itself, hold on to your stomachs! It’s like being on a fairground ride but I was so focused on watching the whale I didn’t really think about it. The pilot circles in the other direction to give my sister a good view as well.
The whale stays on the surface for about 5-6 minutes, which is plenty of time for photos. Then we watch him prepare to dive back down and his tail is the last thing then he’s gone.
The whale stays on the surface for about 5-6 minutes
You might also like to read more of my wildlife experiences around the world: Wildlife experiences
Whale watching in Kaikoura by plane or boat?
- The flight is shorter (30 minutes) but this does leave you with the rest of the day to explore.
- Cost* – similar prices for either option ($150 NZD – boat tour and $145/$165 NZD for flight).
- No sea sickness! Although my tummy did turn when we circled the whale but this lasted seconds.
- A chance to see the full size of the whale from the air.
- Additional scenic flight time on the way out and back.
- Personal experience – there’s only 3 seats and the pilot!
*Prices correct at time of writing.
Have you been to New Zealand? Did you go whale watching in Kaikoura or are you booking your trip? Tell me about your experience or ask me any questions in the comments below: