When Is the Best Time
The town and surrounding coastline are well known for their outstanding views, with the Kaikoura mountain range providing a beautiful backdrop. The upwelling ocean currents around the nearby peninsula attract a range of marine wildlife, including the area’s main highlight – the whales.
Many different whale species can be found at Kaikoura, including Sperm, Blue, Humpback, and Minke Whales. Orcas can often be seen, along with Southern Right Whales and Pilot Whales. Dolphins are also frequent visitors to Kaikoura, with sighted species including Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Dusky Dolphins, and Hector’s Dolphins.
The best time to see whales in Kaikoura is from June to August. This is the peak time for migrating whales. In addition, the resident sperm whales when visiting during these months.
However, Kaikoura is an amazing year-round destination for whale watching.
💡 Kaikoura is only a 2:30 hour drive from Christchurch: Google Maps Route. The short drive from Christchurch is a wonderful trip, where you will find many gorgeous viewpoints along the road.
Read on for insights, tips, and everything you need to know. We visited Kaikoura multiple times!
Whale Watching Seasons | Migrating Whales
Year-Round Sights | Whales – Dolphins
80% of the world’s whale and dolphin species are found in Kaikoura’s waters. Although many are migratory visitors, some are residents all year round. For example, one of the best reasons to go whale watching in Kaikoura is that Sperm Whales can be sighted at any time of year.
The area is also home to Hector’s Dolphins – a species found only in New Zealand – and Dusky Dolphins, with both species being present throughout the seasons.
The Kaikoura whale watching season for humpback whales, blue whales, and southern right whales is between May and October. The summer season, from November to March, is a great time to spot resident sperm whales and other species.
Winter Months: May – October
New Zealand’s winter season can be cold, and it’s sensible to come prepared with warm clothing for this reason. However, visitors to Kaikoura at this time of year can be rewarded with opportunities to see migrating Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, and Southern Right Whales. There may also be rare sightings of Minke Whales towards the end of the season.
Summer Months: November – March
The summer season brings warmer temperatures, and this can make it a more comfortable time to be out on the water. Migratory species will generally not be present at this time of year, with the resident Sperm Whales being the main attraction. However, summer can be the best season to spot Orcas and Pilot Whales.
Book in Advance
Try to book an early morning tour and pre-book if possible. The most reliable and best whale watching tours are being offered by Whale Watch Kaikoura: Kaikoura Whale Watching Cruise (please book in advance otherwise you run the risk of not getting your desired spot)
3 Options for Whale Watching | Boat – Plane – Helicopter
- Boat Trips/Operators: They offer the most popular whale watching tours. It’s the easiest and by far the least expensive way to spot whales here. The very best operator is Kaikoura Whale Watching Cruise
- Plane Flights: A more expensive way but truly stunning at the same time is via plane. The huge advantage: The sea can be rough and you can still fly above the whales. The best tours can be booked with Kaikoura – Whale Watching Flights
- Helicopter Tours: Another unforgettable way to see the whales. It’s cheaper if you book for at least 2 people or a small group. Check details and visitor reviews here: Kaikoura – 30 Minutes Whale Watching Helicopter Tour
3 Kaikoura Whale Watching Must-Know Tips
- Early Tours Are Better: Usually, the ocean is relatively flat and calm earlier in the day. Book a morning tour in advance if your schedule and itinerary allow it.
- Tour Cancellations Are Possible: It’s advisable to confirm your whale watching tour one day ahead with your operator as any tour can be canceled depending on the current weather.
- Highway 1 Can Be Inaccessible: When the weather is rough, State Highway 1 (near Kaikoura) may not be accessible. Always study the weather report.
Kaikoura’s Whale Species | Detailed Guide
The stars of Kaikoura, the Sperm Whale can be found here all year-round. Only the males are present, as they use the nutrient-rich waters to capitalize on the abundance of prey. Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales and are known for their deep diving behavior, where they can reach depths of over a kilometre. The species gets its name from the Spermaceti Organ in its head, which produces a type of oil that was prized by 19th century whalers.
The Blue Whale is the largest animal on Earth, growing to between 80 and 100 feet long and weighing in at almost 200 tons. The species is a seasonal visitor to Kaikoura and migrates along the coast, generally being seen between May and September. Blue Whales feed primarily on krill, which they catch through lunge-feeding – a strategy where the whale accelerates towards prey and opens its mouth wide. An endangered species, its numbers have increased globally in recent times, meaning there are more chances than ever to see them.
Humpbacks can be seen in Kaikoura’s waters during winter, when the whales begin their annual migration northwards. The species can be one of the most entertaining whales to watch, largely due to their tendency to engage in dramatic behaviours such as breaching and tail slapping. Humpbacks also have a variety of feeding strategies, including the bubble-trap technique – where a group of whales create a ring of bubbles to confuse shoals of fish.
Orcas – also known as Killer Whales – are the largest species in the dolphin family. Despite not technically classing as whales, they can still be spectacular to see and tend to visit Kaikoura during the summer. A very intelligent species, Orcas frequently hunt other marine mammals, working together in groups to outwit their prey.
Southern Right Whale
Another migratory visitor, the Southern Right Whale, graces Kaikoura’s shores between April and October. They make the trip from more southern latitudes in order to feed in the warmer waters surrounding New Zealand. Southern Right Whales can be distinguished from other whales by the white callouses on their heads and can be very curious creatures, often venturing close to boats.
Pilot Whales are one of the smaller species of whale to be seen at Kaikoura, usually reaching lengths of around 5 – 7 metres. They are most common during the summer, as their pass the New Zealand coast to and from the Antarctic. Pilot Whales are very social and can occasionally be seen in groups of over 100 individuals.
One of the rarer species in New Zealand, the Minke Whale favours colder waters and is therefore most often seen at Kaikoura during winter months. The species can be very elusive and surprisingly little is known of its behaviour and ecology. Minke Whales are the smallest example of the baleen whales and feed mostly on krill, though they will also hunt small fish and squid.