Woke up to grey skies, the sound of rain and the question of whether or not we'd be able to go whale watching today. As this was pretty much the whole reason we came to Kaikoura we hoped we would. Rain we figured wouldn't be a deterrent, after all a whale's not gonna care about getting wet, but we weren't sure about sea conditions with a strong southerly predicted.
Our tour was booked for an 8:15am check-in but we were ready a little early so decided to head on down and learn the verdict. Turned out the 8:15 was cancelled but the 7:45 wasn't so we managed to nab the last two tickets on that boat.
A short bus ride and then a quick cruise out to the continental shelf, where any reservations about getting wet soon vanished.
Under a grey sky on the deep green water we found ourselves surrounded by a mixed pod of approximately 100 Bottlenose Dolphins and Long-finned Pilot Whales, which everyone hurried out on deck to see.
Though we have seen Bottlenoses before they are actually a rarity for Kaikoura and the pilot whales, which were new for us, haven't been seen here for over 12 months. It seemed to be our lucky day. Hopefully the luck would continue.
We got to spend about half an hour with the pod, which included pilot whale calves, and amongst them too were NZ Fur Seals which occasionally jumped out of the water or stopped to gaze at us with their big, sweetie eyes.
Our main target though was the legendary Sperm Whale. Sperm Whales are the largest toothed whales, growing up to 18 metres long and capable of holding their breath for up to two hours, with a dive usually lasting 45-60 minutes in the Kaikoura area due to the depth of the water.
The crew had coordinates for where a whale had been seen surfacing earlier so we headed in that direction, arriving about 50 minutes after his last dive.
Sure enough we arrived to find Tiaki (tee-AH-key) on the surface, replenishing his oxygen ready for another kilometre deep dive into the canyon. Tiaki is the dominant bull in the area. He's big, weighing in at about 60 tonnes. He is kind of a protector to the other whales putting himself between orca and the smaller bulls. There are no females this far south as the water is too cold, they all stay up near the equator with their calves, but the feeding grounds here are rich which attracts the bulls who need to eat about a tonne of fish and squid every day. So the males here are semi-resident, with Tiaki returning to Kaikoura periodically since 1991.
He stayed on the surface for 10-15 minutes and then dived down, giving us the classic tail view. Seeing a live Sperm Whale was a dream come true for both of us and it's still a little hard to believe it really happened.
On the way back to shore we stopped off with the pilot whales again, and this time as well as the Bottlenoses there were Dusky Dolphins too. These were another species to add to our mammal life lists (like bird watching, mammal watching is a thing too, and it's growing in popularity. Have a go at making your own life list, it won't take long, you'll soon realise how few wild mammals you've actually seen, my personal count is only 50.)
The Dusky Dolphins were only about half the size of the Bottlenoses and more acrobatic.
It was quite a surreal feeling to be amongst so many whales and dolphins, at times the ocean was completely alive with tails and spouts and jumping sea mammals as far as the eye could see. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by so many cetaceans. I definitely recommend a trip to Kaikoura for anyone who is into wildlife watching. Even on a miserable day our trip was filled with mind-blowing encounters.
Back on 'dry' land we realised we were actually pretty soaked so we headed back to the motel for a change of clothes.
We grabbed lunch from the bakery and then went back out to the seal colony to see how they felt about the rain. (The locals by the way are pretty happy with it because it's been quite dry in NZ of late.) The seals were all hanging out on the rocks and didn't seem too fussed either way.
Next we checked out the aquarium. It is just a couple of little rooms on the jetty. Mainly it's a research facility but they do have a few crayfish, sharks, seahorse and octopus on display. After a chat with one of the staff about the Giant Squid that recently washed up, we headed for South Bay to see the site for ourselves. A wild southerly squall had whipped up by the time we got out there, so if the weather has cleared by tomorrow morning we are keen to check out what the ocean may have washed up.
The downpour continued so next we checked out the local museum. It has pretty much anything you can think of relating to the history of Kaikoura, particularly interesting were the artefacts from the whaling days.
Next we headed up to the lookout on the top of the peninsula for a bird's-eye view of town and both bays. The mist still hasn't lifted so no view of the mountains but hopefully we'll get to see them in the morning before we leave.
By 4:00pm the rain finally stopped so we headed out to the seal colony for another look. This time it was dry enough to get the spotting scope out and I managed to find four little newborn pups on the rocks.
Back into town for some dinner. We ordered a pizza and the wait was half an hour so we used the time to wander along the main street and check out some shops.
All in all I think we made the most of a day that had the potential to be a total wash out.