RTW in 50 Days – NEW ZEALAND, Kaikoura: 36 Hours

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Just a 2.5 hour drive from Christchurch, which is absolutely gorgeous, is the small coastal town of Kaikoura.  Before heading into town we stopped to see some of the local residents – the fur seals.  Check them out at the Seal Colony Walk.  Basking in the sun, frolicking in the sea, sleeping on the shore, you can get up close and personal with these seals.  Don’t be fooled, they are wild and can be aggressive so keep your distance, even if it’s only a few feet.

Seeing as it was about lunchtime, we went straight to the Pier Hotel to eat.  We sat outside on the water under an umbrella reveling in our surroundings and the company.  After saying goodbye to our friends who were headed back home, the three of us continued our adventure.

Since we were a stone’s throw from the Kaikoura Aquarium I thought it best to go their first.  I’d say this local aquarium is a must see.  It’s small and most of the exhibits look as though they were put together by a middle schoolers, but don’t be misled.  This place is packed with information on the local marine life and it’s fascinating.

There are two touch tanks so you can actually put your hands on some of these amazing creatures.  There’s also a small room where you can sit on an old dusty sofa and watch a DVD, which is completely entertaining.  You’ll learn about what’s under the water, on the beach and in the air, and then you can see it all right outside the door.  Happily, we had the place to ourselves.

I’d booked us in for a night at the White Morph hotel which is right on the main drag, if a wee walk out of the center of town.  We came to Kaikoura as much as for the scenery and a change of pace as to see whales.  I thought it would be a treat to go out with Whale Watch Kaikoura to hopefully spot some of these gentle giants.  I’d booked us for the first boat of the following morning, having learned that’s when the waters tend to be calmest.

After relaxing at the hotel for a bit we headed into town for dinner.  It was Friday night and I thought that perhaps there’d still be some shops open, but I was wrong.  Mostly everything was closed with the exception of the restaurants.  We perused the street and decided to eat at The Whaler.

“Everyone comes here for the $18 ribeye” a local woman we met that night said.  I had to admit, we were no exception.  When we walked in it was obvious that this was the local watering hole.  The atmosphere was lively and throughout the evening it got quite busy.  I was happy we chose it.  The food was good and didn’t break the bank, the place was humming and the folks were friendly.  Completely satisfied we walked back to the Morph in the cool night are.  We slept well and dreamed of whales.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

The next morning we had a tasty breakfast at Encounter Café because it happened to be located right next to the hotel.  About a 20 minute walk to the Whale Watch at the other end of the street, we optimistically headed to the station.  The weather, as far as I could tell, was perfect.  Cool but sunny with no wind and easy seas.  We checked in and looked around with some time to spare.

We learned that the water is too cold for the females and the calves so it’s the male sperm whales that dominate the Kaikoura waters.  These whales are the largest toothed predators on earth.  They can hold their breath for as long as 2 hours, typically coming to the surface for only 10 minutes before diving for another 45 minutes to feed.  Spending up to 80% of their lives in darkness, the whales rely on the superb echolocation system, the largest of any animal in the world.

In our two hours on the water were lucky enough to spot three whales on the surface, following them until they dove, showing us their magnificent tales.  That tale as it propels the whale under the water puts off over 500 house power!  We also saw to pods of playful dusky dolphins who happily showed off for us.  I’d never seen so many dolphins at one time, hundreds of them, splashing, swimming, racing the boat.

Upon disembarking we were hungry for lunch and ready to do the shopping we weren’t able to do the night before.  We had a tasty lunch at a Thai restaurant, did our shopping (don’t miss the cheese shop if you like cheese, see details below), collected our bags and then hopped on the late afternoon bus back to Christchurch.  The perfect escape complete!

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Follow in our footsteps:

  • Stop to see the seals along the coast
  • Lunch by the water at the Pier Hotel
  • Kaikoura Aquarium, just a few steps away
  • Check in at the White Morph
  • Dinner at The Whaler
  • Lights out
  • Brekkie, or breakfast, at Encounter Café
  • Whale Watch Kaikoura to check in for our 10am encounter
  • Best of luck on the water!
  • Return 1:30, lunch Thai Siam
  • Shopping.  I recommend Kaikoura Artisan Cheese for a local cheese tasting.  If you are a lover, you’ll have found your Nirvana.  For souvenirs I really liked the Jade Kiwi shop.  The prices and selection of popular items like jewelry made from jade and shells were the best I’d seen.  I scored myself a pair of small silver fern earrings for $5 NZ.
  • Catch the Intercity Bus back to Christchurch 4:00pm in front of Fish Tank Lodge
  • Enjoy the ride! You’ll be back in the city by about 6:30pm.
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Gorgeous sunset bus ride from Kaikoura to Christchurch

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