New Zealand: Kaikoura, a marine wildlife sanctuary

A colony of whales and dolphins live off the coast of Kaikoura, a little town on the shores of the Pacific Ocean of South Island. A must for wildlife lovers.

Nau Mai Haere Mai Ki Kaikoura! Welcome to Kaikoura! If there is one spot in New Zealand that amply justifies the country’s reputation of unspoiled paradise, it has to be Kaikoura. This narrow green peninsula, behind which lies a sleepy town of 4,000 residents, is a paradise for wildlife. The Seaward Kaikoura Range, a backdrop of peaks covered in snow several months of the year, overlooks the Pacific Ocean at the convergence of two upwelling currents that are home to a wide range of marine wildlife. Kaikoura is one of the few places on earth where it is possible to observe sperm whales all year round – simply stunning!

A sperm whale sounding

A powerful motor catamaran takes visitors to the marine sanctuary in just twenty minutes. Many hardly have time to get out their equipment before a huge grey-black shadow can be seen just below the surface of the sea, blowing up a geyser of water vapour into the air. As this marine mammal breathes out, the passengers hold their breath. A few minutes later, this giant mammal, having filled up with oxygen, flips its distinctive triangular-shaped tail into the air before sounding – diving deep down to the bottom of the sea and some 40 tons of flesh and blubber vanish into the Pacific.

In startling contrast, the ballet of the dusky dolphins looks very like sheer, unadulterated enjoyment. Close to the cliffs and the boat, dozens of them leap out of the water in an uncoordinated choreography that seems to translate their love of play.

Kaikoura, Green Globe certified

The only black spot of this idyllic cruise are the helicopters overhead – a “tourist by-product” that is hardly compatible with Kaikoura’s Green Globe certification (awarded after the Rio summit in 1992). At the time, Kaikoura was one of the first regions in the world to receive this label for its work in favour of the protection of the environment. Whales and dolphins live off the coast all year round, but it is also home to many other wildlife species, among which orcas, fur seals, the rare blue whale and countless birds, including the albatross and petrel.

What else is there to do at Kaikoura? Among the million or so visitors that come to the town each year, some take the time to go hiking in the nearby mountains, visit Fyffe House, devoted to the history of the peninsula and tuck into local seafood specialties. In fact doesn’t kaikoura mean “the place to eat crayfish” in Maori?

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