Kaikoura whales and dolphins

by sam on 3rd April 2017 7 comments

The first image for blog - Kaikoura whales and dolphins

Kaikoura Township

Early start this morning, but that was no problem, as having gone to bed at 8pm we were all up by 6am. The drive to Kaikoura was going to take 2 hours, but due to a recent earthquake (on Freya's birthday) access to Kaikoura has been severely restricted.

Kaikoura is essentially a town within a C shape of Mountains. The top and bottom of the 'c' shape reach the coast so it is completely enclosed. The main road (the SH1) from Picton, further north, to Christchurch passed round and through these mountains along the coast. However the quake was so severe that the whole C shape of mountains essentially moved forward 2 metres blocking huge portions of the SH1 and the adjacent railway line. The South side reopened 3 months later during daytime hours and with lots of single file traffic areas and detours on temporary road structures. The North side has so many land slides etc and house sized boulders on the road and rail that it will be at least a year before that can reopen.

Unfortunately, the day we were due to travel the SH1 had to be reclosed again to try and make further repairs in preparation for poor weather due with winter coming here, so that left the inland road as the only access- the over mountain, hairpin bends, twice as long and very slow route. There were multiple areas where you could see huge amounts of work had happened to repair crushed bridges and torn apart roads to make this accessible for the poor locals, whose only way in and out for weeks was by helicopter prior to this road opening.

The first image for blog - Kaikoura whales and dolphins

1st whale's head

The weather was starting to turn as we drive up to Kaikoura, we really weren't sure if they would run. They said they would decide 1/2hr before, it was that touch and go.

We previously got cancelled whale watching in Hawaii, so we were really hoping it would go ahead, but obviously it had to be safe! At 11.15 they decided that it would go ahead but only on the condition that we knew there was a "strong sea sickness warning" attached! Anti-sickness tablets (for me!) & ginger lollies recommended too for us all (soooo disgusting!)

The first image for blog - Kaikoura whales and dolphins

Seabed uplift of 1.5min the harbour

The boat set out from the quake-damaged harbour, the entire sea bed around Kaikoura lifted between 1.5m and 5m, which means that the boats can't leave at low tide anymore. Work is ongoing to dredge down the 1.5m and fix the harbour, but in the mean time, the only whale watching operation in NZ is now only able to do 3 trips a day at high tide instead of 16. And the 15-20 odd little after shocks a day keep impeding progress. Apparently there was a 3.4 richter quake the night we were there the hotel inner told us but we slept through it!

The sea was absurdly choppy, the swell was about 2m and we literally bounced in and out of each wave, it was horrific! I wanted to be sick within 10 minutes. The first whale took about 30 minutes to find. The Kaikoura canyon is a few miles off shore, and is about 60km long and 1200m deep, and is one of 3 such perfect areas for finding whales and dolphins worldwide.

The first image for blog - Kaikoura whales and dolphins

The main whales found are sperm whales, that's what the 2 we saw we were. There are 7 semi-resident whales around, all males, and they are all about 16m long. They don't breach the water like some other whales but they dive down for about 45 minutes, surface for 5-10 then go back down again...so they are pretty hard to find!

We were so lucky to spot 2. They were definitely different ones as their flukes (tails) are like finger prints in humans, they're unique to that individual whale. The first was one of the residents and the second one was a visiting whale. The size up close is phenomenal!

On the way back (- after throwing up 8 times, Adam once, and Liss once) we started being followed by a pod of dusky Dolphins. They are a small species of dolphin, only found in the Southern Hemisphere. There were about 20-30 of them following along the side of the boat and jumping around....they were very cute!

The first image for blog - Kaikoura whales and dolphins

1.5m sea bed uplift

Back in dry land, we went for a walk to the end of the Kaikoura peninsula where there is a large well known seal colony thT lives on or near the car park. Again, the earthquake has had effect here to, as that sea bed that rose so much has meant that it is such a bigger trek from the sea up To the car park for the seals when they finish their day at sea. The area that was previously under the sea is evident by being green and seaweed covered, it's everywhere, utterly vast, and scary what changed in just 120 seconds. I can't imagine going to bed one night and home looking normal and waking up the next morning to so much permanent change.

The houses and hotels are just as affected too. The famous pink Fyffe house at the edge of the peninsula is the last remaining whaling station from the 1840s, in the heyday of catching whales for oil. The house is built on whale bones, and is a museum to its history but that too is cordoned off and red zoned as a danger to the public. This lovely lovely town is trying hard to keep going but it's still got a long way to go to get back to normal, but we are so glad we came, it's a gem.

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by Thay on 5th April 2017

Superb blog

by Dad on 5th April 2017

I expect you are sick of whales, dolphins etc... Try and visit somewhere on the Island that isn't collapsing from earthquake damage. Glad you are having fun. Is chilly there, it looks a bit overcast. Love to all Dad

by Eileen Crosbie on 5th April 2017

You were all very brave, absolutely no way!!

by The Days on 5th April 2017

Thankyou Thay! Haha Dad, we are in non-earthquake stricken area now but What we saw there was nothing compared to the road on the way back out of Kaikoura!!!! Tail end of cyclone Debbie here for last 2 days too πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚it's cold and wet!

by The Days on 5th April 2017

Eileen,I am still 2 days later not entirely sure it was totally worth the experience (for me at least!). It was incredible to see them, but I definitely didn't get the most out of them, and couldn't
tell you most of what the guide told us after the first 10 minutes. I definitely did better than the two guys next to Adam, I managed to get outside and see things almost every time the boat stopped to view things, these two middle-aged guys did not leave their seats at all!

by Nicola on 27th April 2017

Absolutely loved reading this Sam, you write so beautifully and it was a real trip down memory lane. How dreadful about the earthquake. Well done for braving the seasickness, huge waves and long drives and it sounds like it was totally worth it xx

by Days on 27th April 2017

Thankyou Nicola, its funny how many people have such fond memories of Kaikoura, it really was such a lovely place and the whales, ahh the whales!!

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