Kaikoura, New Zealand – Whales. Trails. Wheels.
Kaikoura, New Zealand, is located 2.5 hours north of Christchurch on the stunning east coastal Highway 1 of the South Island. The drive can take a bit longer than the advertised 2.5 hours because theres still extensive ongoing roadwork to repair the damage from the November 2017 earthquake. We enjoyed the ocean views and spotted a couple of seals on the drive.
Our Airbnb was located on the South Bay of Kaikoura, which on the opposite side of the peninsula from town, slightly less expensive and easy access to the Peninsula trail. The hikes and mountain bike trails of Kaikoura are what drew us to this location. We were eager to check it out. As soon as we checked in and unloaded, we were out-the-door and on the trail within minutes. The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a relatively easy hike but took us nearly 4 hours to complete the entire loop. The initial climb is a bit steep to the summit of the rocky sea-cliff overlook, but worth the grunt as the views of the Hikurangi Marine Reserve are incredible. In the past, visitors could view whales and dolphins just offshore from this location, but the 2017 earthquake raised the seafloor by a few feet, making the shoreline waters too shallow for sea animals.
The peninsula walkway is a collection of informative panels explaining the rich history, geology, plants, and animals of the region. The path meanders along the coastline on a well-defined footpath, through grassy, sheep grazing fields to Point Kean car park. Along the way, you will see signs warning you to stay away from seals. We didnt see any seals that day, but the population varies at different times of the year.
The stroll takes you past soulless heaps of half-crumbled concrete that were likely once some of the busiest whaling stations in the world. The thriving New Zealand whaling industry began in 1843 until operations ceased in 1964. In 1978, the Marine Mammal Protection Act passed to protect marine life in the area.
We underestimated the time, energy and snacks needed for the peninsula loop. My mood is quickly descending into hangry-mode as we happened upon the famous Kaikoura Seafood BBQ food truck (saved). By the time we arrived, the BBQ was sold out of their top sellers (lobster and crawfish), but we enjoyed a tasty piece of fresh salmon and salad on a picnic bench along the coast. It doesnt get any better.
Although fascinating, the whaling history has a desolate narrative as you make your way to town. Whale graveyard with bones large and small lie just off the pathway. My imagination runs wild with visions of these gigantic mammals beached in this small sandy cove as they wait for death to overtake them. Why this location? Lonely structures of rotted wood and twisted metal dot the coastline as we edge closer to town. We round the corner just before town, a distinct pink home sits on a large lot overlooking the sea. The Fyffe House is a national whaling monument and the towns oldest surviving building. The intact structure remains one of the last Whaling Industry relics of the past. The home sits upon a foundation of whale vertebra and likely, a rare chance for visitors to experiences the confines of a whalers cottage, touch whale bones, and smell a hint of whale oil aroma.
We continued our walk into town. Its a gray and overcast evening and not a lot of activity around town. The view of the stormy sea is breathtaking with the mountain backdrop. The North Bay of the peninsula is a bit more commercial with small hotels and motels, vacation rentals, and commerce. We weaved our way through a residential neighborhood looking for a local walking trail back to the South Bay. The clouds open up and release a torrential downpour as we reached the South Bay. Luckily, we are prepared, walking at a reasonable pace; we enjoyed the soggy moment. Even with the rain, this place is impressive.
New Zealanders take pride in the whaling history but are also fiercely protective of the marine ecosystem that maintains whales in their natural environment. Kaikoura is one of only three areas in the world that whales visit annually to live in their natural habitat. The Maori and residents of New Zealand ask guests to follow the Tiaki Promise while visiting.
Whale Watch is a Maori-owned company that cherishes the twin values of hospitality to visitors and reverence for the natural world. Whale Watches modern catamarans are powered by inboard diesel engines and equipped with Hamilton propulsion units that minimize underwater noise. We spent an afternoon in the plush Whale Watch vessels and enjoyed viewing two blue whales in their natural environment. An experience and education you do not want to miss.
1. Indigenous Kiwi & Paikea – The history of Kaikoura and the Maori legends are fascinating. The peninsula is rich in history that goes back over 800 years.
2. Kaikoura Seafood BBQ – Incredible seafood by the sea. Do not miss!
3. Grouper Garage – A great stop for lunch or dinner with fresh and healthy seafood dishes as well as gooey, salty comfort food. Yum!
4. Whale Watch – Enjoy an afternoon on these comfy vessels and see the incredible giants of the sea. Such a cool experience!
5. Annual Kaikoura Trail Fun Ride – A 39km loop on roads and trails through various ecosystems from the beach to the rainforest to farmland. If you don’t make the fun ride, create your own loop!
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