Jared Ning


The Fellowship of the Ring of Fire, Part 5: Kaikoura Whale Watching


Our next destination was Christchurch, but really, it was just a mini-homebase to reach the nearby town of Kaikoura. It claims be have some of the world's best whale watching.We were supposed to take a short flight to Christchurch, but volcanic ash from Chile caused a lot of airlines to cancel flights including ours. But since our destination was so close, the airline chartered a bus for us. They even gave us credit for food on the way.

Not 15 minutes on the road, an earthquake hit Christchurch. Our driver communicated with people in Christchurch and told us that we were still clear to drive there. We arrived late in the evening, just enough time to clean up and just go to sleep. At around 2am, another earthquake hit. Even I woke up. But I promptly fell back asleep.

Early the next morning we took a shuttle to Kaikoura. Kaikoura looked like an empty beach. It's also a tourist town, so everything is very expensive. If you wanted to eat half a crayfish (lobster), it'll cost almost $50. A full crayfish will cost you upwards of $80.

We came here to do 1 thing: see whales. Kaikoura is unique because the seafloor drops off very quickly. Sperm whales need very deep waters to dive. Also, there's plenty of food here for them. So these particular sperm whales don't migrate. The result: year-round whale watching very close to land.

We got on a big boat that could've easily carried 150 passengers, but there were only about 30 of us. On the way to search for the whales, we encountered some rare dolphins. Our speaker told us they were the smallest species of dolphin, and we were very lucky to see them.

We found our first whale. It looked like a giant boulder sticking out of the water. Other than seeing it breathe through its blowhole, it was fairly uneventful -- until it began to dive back down. Its body begins to roll forward as the head goes deep into the water. More of the whale's front disappears as more of its back appears. Without a single splash, its tail very gracefully dives in after the rest of its body. We saw 3 whales do this.