Catching sight of my bare legs, I suddenly feel vulnerable and try to pull down my skirt. I’m tired, cold, fed up and slightly nervous as I realise I’m in the passenger seat of a stranger’s messy pick-up truck. Perhaps hitchhiking wasn’t the best idea, but the thought of walking back to the hotel for over an hour in the dark didn’t appeal either. How did hubby and I end up in this situation? All we wanted was to see the famous Point Kean seal colony in Kaikoura, also called the whale watching capital of New Zealand.

Not sure if you could call three seals a colony though. Barely five minutes later we arrive back in town where the driver drops us off. I feel stupid for feeling suspicious. He only tried to help a couple of ill-prepared tourists.

views of the South Pacific Ocean
From the town centre you have great views of the South Pacific Ocean

In search of the Point Kean seal colony of Kaikoura

So, obviously the burning question on everyone’s mind right now is: how did we end up in this situation?!

Well, sit tight while I tell you!

Hubby and I had just arrived in Kaikoura, a small coastal town located 180 kilometres north of Christchurch. Kaikoura is most famous for its abundant wildlife. Want to ensure to see whales in New Zealand without too much effort? Then Kaikoura is the place for you! Besides different types of whales, it’s also home to dolphins, fur seals and various bird species such as the albatros and cormorant.

sunbathing cormorants
Sunbathing cormorants

We arrived here by public transport in February 2018 as we didn’t have a rental car for this part of our trip yet. I had a booked us onto a whale watching tour for the next morning so when we arrived in the afternoon, I suggested to walk over to the Point Kean seal colony on Kaikoura Peninsula. At that point, the 5.5km-long walk along the winding coastline seemed like a marvellous adventure. Well, at least to me. Hubby was less convinced but tagged along anyway.

selfie of me and Hubby
Early on our walk we’re still able to smile
ocean views along the Kaikoura Peninsula walkway
Views of the South Pacific Ocean along the Kaikoura Peninsula walkway

I expected to be greeted by glorious ocean views en route. But in reality it was a tiring walk along a boring motorway. There’s enough space to walk safely next to the main road, but it’s not very exciting. For the last kilometre there’s a dedicated wooden walkway which is more pleasant to walk on.

the pink Fyffe House is the oldest surviving building in Kaikoura
Fyffe House (1842) is Kaikoura’s oldest surviving building and used to be part of a whaling station

Yo, where the seals at?

Finally arriving at our destination, we walked into the small Point Kean seal colony car park and immediately spotted a lazy seal basking in the sun. Promising start I thought. It confirmed the articles I had read saying this particular seal colony was one of the best places to see fur seals in New Zealand.

fur seals New Zealand

As we walked further towards the water, we encountered an incredible lunar-like landscape. This surreal sight is actually the result of the devastating 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. While at other locations in and around Kaikoura the earth had literally split, the seabed was thrust to the surface along 20 kilometres of the coast.

New Zealand's landscape has changed dramatically after the 2016 earthquake
Standing on Kaikoura's raised seabed along the coastline

Treading carefully along the uneven surface, our eyes scanned our surroundings. Being masters of camouflage, we didn’t want to accidentally stumble upon any sleeping seals. Especially since there were supposed to be many pups around this time of year which would make even the most docile mama fur seal into one crazy overprotective biatch.

Always remain cautious when approaching seals

Come too close and they might lash out with their sharp claws. They may look cuddly, but remember they’re still wild animals!

Ultimately, there was absolutely no reason for concern because in total we saw only three seals there. As the sun started to go down, the temperature dropped as dramatically as our spirits. Starting to get worried about walking back into town for over an hour in the dark along the unlit main road, I suggested to hitchhike.

Point Kean seal colony

This didn’t go as well planned though as not a single car stopped for us. Just as we were about to give up, the kind local resident let us hop into his pick-up truck. When we asked him where the imaginary seal colony was supposed to be, he laughed at us. ‘They’re right there, dozens, if not hundreds of them.’ Ugh, I thought. How is it possible that we missed them?!

That’s when Hubby and I vowed to each other that if we were ever to return to New Zealand, we’d get a rental car for the entire trip. Then we’d drive down to Kean Point again to seek out those pesky seals from wherever they were hiding!

And so we did the following year.

oceans views from Point Kean Lookout
Looking out over the South Pacific Ocean from Point Kean Lookout

To see seals in Kaikoura, go to the Ohau Point seal colony

Fast-forward to February 2019 when we continue our ‘find the seals in Kaikoura’ saga. It’s our first morning in New Zealand and we’re getting ready to pick up our rental car from Hertz in downtown Christchurch. And just as we’re about to head out, we see a news item about the Kaikoura seals on TV. Hundreds of seals fill the screen, it’s amazing.

Ohau Point seal colony

The chipper breakfast news presenter enthusiastically announces the return of the Kaikoura seal colony. He tells us how they had disappeared from Kean Point after the 2016 earthquake. Eventually they returned to the area, but settled down 27 kilometres north from Kaikoura. Their new home is Ohau Point, just off State Highway 1. According to the news presenter, there’s a brand-new car park just off the motorway. This allows the increasing number of spectators to view the seals safely.

Speaking of incredible timing! Only two days later we set off to Kaikoura. Of course our first stop is Kean Point. I’m glad we do have a car now because we see even less seals here than we had the year before!

How to get to Ohau Point seal colony

The drive from Kaikoura to Ohau Point is very straightforward. You simply follow SH1. But be aware that the Ohau Point Look Out isn’t clearly signposted. (At least not when we were last there.) Keep your eyes out for the a small car park on your righthand side right just as you go through a bend.

Ohau Point seal colony Lookout
Fences around the small car park at the Ohau Point seal colony Lookout

From the lookout you have a great view over the hundreds of seals on the rocks right underneath you. It took us two years to find the famous Kaikoura seal colony so obviously we spent some time here watching the cute pups play while the elderly were just enjoying the sunshine.

sleeping fur seal pup with parent
seal colony at Ohau Point

Where to go whale watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand

So all good in the end for meeting our new fur seal friends, but what about seeing any whales though? Remember I mentioned at the very beginning of this article I had booked us onto a whale watching tour the first time Hubby and I were in Kaikoura?

Let’s see how that adventure worked out, shall we?

It’s the day after our memorable hitchhiking incident. After an early start, we arrive at Whale Watch Kaikoura New Zealand on time for our 10am departure. We check in for our tour and are led to a small cinema room for some early morning infotainment about the marine life around Kaikoura. (Missing the popcorn and M&Ms though.)

After the compulsory safety announcements, we can board the special vessel. Feeling excited and eager to see as much as possible, we snatch the seats at the very front in the sheltered cabin. ‘If you’re prone to sea sickness, it’s best to sit at the back,’ warns the captain. I scuff, thinking that won’t be me, whilst ignoring the fact I suffer from car sickness.

Despite the bumpy ride, I thankfully don’t get sick. But judging from the number of pills my neighbour keeps popping, she’s less lucky.

photo of me on the boat during the Kaikoura whale watching tour
Standing on deck after arriving at a whale hotspot

Using the sophisticated equipment on board, the captain leads us to a spot where he detected whale activity. He mentions how they saw blue whales the other day and even an Orca just the week before. We come across several birds and even some seals (of course), and eventually … two sperm whales.

I’ve seen whales during my road trip through West Canada before, but once again the sight of these majestic animals makes me feel very humble. For a moment I almost forget to take photos. And as I pull out my camera, I just about manage to capture a mighty tail before the whale dives back down into the water.

Kaikoura is one of the best places for whale watching in New Zealand
My best effort to photograph whales on our whale watching tour in Kaikoura

Kaikoura dolphin encounter

But whales aren’t the only marine mammals we see in the waters around Kaikoura. At a certain point we are surrounded by dozens of dusky dolphins. They all seem to be enjoying showing off their meticulously choreographed routine to us. I can’t describe the joy I feel when I see these playful animals swimming along the boat and jumping in the air.

I was rather bummed out when we took the ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island) a few days before. Apparently I had missed a small school of dolphins swimming in front of the boat whilst I was holed up at the back photographing the sunset.

However, Hubby assures me that this is a far more impressive sight. Not only can we see the dolphins from really close up, but there are so many of them. They’re literally all around us, it’s such an incredible sight!

school of dusky dolphins during the Kaikoura whale watching tour
dolphin encounter during the Kaikoura whale watching tour

Over two hours later we return to land and disembark with slightly unsteady legs but happy hearts. We have a few more hours to kill before we catch the bus and continue our explorations of New Zealand’s South Island. And there are many more adventures to tell you about, so stay tuned for more…

Don’t forget to scroll down for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about whale watching in Kaikoura!

Pin this article about whale watching in Kaikoura for later!

Image of wale watching in Kaikoura New Zealand for Pinterest

FAQ about Kaikoura whale watching possibilities

When is the best time of year for whale watching in Kaikoura?

Good news: whale season in this part of New Zealand is all year round! At any given day, chances are that you’ll see at least a few sperm whales who feed off the nutrient rich waters. During New Zealand summer (October-March) you might see migrating Orcas. However, during the cooler winter months (June-August) there’s more opportunity to see other migrating whales, like the humpback whales and blue whales.

The tour company Whale Watch Kaikoura New Zealand is so confident about whale sightings that they offer a 80% refund in case you don’t see any whales with them.

What is the best time of day for whale watching in Kaikoura?

This is a bit difficult to predict of course as it depends on a few different factors. Whale Watching Kaikoura New Zealand offers two tours in the morning (7.15am, 10am) and two tours in the afternoon (12.45pm, 3.30pm). I had read that the morning is the best time of day for whale watching in Kaikoura. But because the water tends to choppy early in the day due to the stronger morning winds, I opted for the 10am tour.

Is whale watching ethical?

At a certain point, the staff stuck an enormous hydrophone in the water to locate whales upon which we navigated towards them at warp speed. (My poor neighbour started to look very pale at that point.) This made me question how ethical whale watching is.

I am of the understanding that Whale Watch Kaikoura New Zealand offer a sustainable service. Not only are their vessels self-contained, but they also limit underwater noise. And besides educating passengers about the local wildlife, the staff also collect data towards scientific research, whilst keeping a respectful distance to all animals they encounter. Furthermore, they have received awards in recognition of their commitment to the preservation of the environment.

What other animals can you see during the Kaikoura whale watching tour?

Again, this varies but during our boat ride we came across sperm whales, dusky dolphins and fur seals. There are also frequent sightings of albatrosses and Hector dolphins. These are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world and indigenous to New Zealand.

26 Comments

  1. This looks like such an epic adventure and your photos are gorgeous! I’m dying to visit New Zealand. It looks like my dream destination.

    • Ha, it was all good in the end and not so dramatic in hindsight but it did feel like it at the time ;-D I loved NZ so much!! We’ve been there twice in a row now and after looking through my photos recently, I definitely want to go back again 🙂 I hope you’ll make it out there for yourself too in the future!

  2. Wat een prachtig reisverslag en een schitterende reisbestemming. Wat zou ik daar nu graag willen rondreizen en alles met eigen ogen aanschouwen.

  3. My husband is fascinated with seals and wants to see them in natural conditions. Your blog is super helpful and will certainly help me plan his dream trip. I love your photographs and tips throughout the blog.!

  4. what an adventure walk this looks! anytime I could take such long walk to see such beautiful creatures especially seals! Dolphin and whale watching looks exciting.

    • Although I hadn’t expected to see any dolphins, that encounter was the highlight of my visit to Kaikoura! Perhaps partially because I had no expectations for this at all, but seeing so many of them playfully swimming along the boat was such a joyful and magical moment!

  5. Wow, what a saga getting to the seals. I’m really pleased that you were able to see the colony in the end. It looks like persistence is key, as well as a little bit of good luck with the news broadcast!

    I really enjoyed reading this post, I love when bloggers can mix in a bit of a personal back story as well as all of the facts and figures about their destination, I think it makes for a much more interesting read 🙂

    • So lucky for the news item indeed! I think we would’ve been so disappointed again otherwise 😉

      And thanks so much for your comment regarding the personal touch to the article. It’s something I strive for as I don’t want to end up as an anonymous and generic blogger, but trying to find the balance between entertaining and informational is quite difficult at times. That’s why it’s really rewarding to read your thoughts on it, thank you! 🙂

  6. What an adventure you had though. I’m sure in the moment it would have sucked and been a trifle nerve-wracking, but you’ve now got a fantastic travel story to share for the rest of your lives. Pity you didn’t see more seals though. Next time, huh!

    • Thanks! It was indeed one of those typical moments that felt like a nightmare at the time, but turned into a funny anecdote later on. We did see loads of seals though as I wrote further down in the article. It appeared the colony had moved just out of town as a result of the earthquake. We saw dozens, if not hundreds of seals there 🙂

  7. Wow this brings back memories. Heel lang geleden ben ik in Kaikoura geweest en heb toen hetzelfde gedaan. Zo fascinerend om al dat wildlife te zien daar!

    • Hé wat leuk dat je daar ook bent geweest! Dat is dan waarschijnlijk voor de aardbeving geweest. Ben benieuwd hoe de kustlijn er toen uitzag.

    • Aaaw, dankjewel! Erg leuk om te horen 🙂 En ik hoop dat het je lukt om ook ooit zo’n reis te maken of zo’n prachtige ontmoeting met zulk wildleven te beleven!

  8. Wat een bijzondere reis en ervaring joh! Prachtige foto’s ook en ja, het doet me erg denken aan een klein strandje in Florida waar we opeens twee dolfijnen voor de kust zagen zwemmen, ook zo’n genietmoment die je nooit weer vergeet.

    • Oh dat klinkt helemaal bijzonder omdat je niet eens bewust op zoek ging naar het wildleven. Zulke momenten draag je voor altijd bij je, zo mooi!

    • Vond de walvissen heel indrukwekkend, maar het zicht van die vele springende dolfijnen om ons heen maakte me echt zó gelukkig op dat moment, helemaal fantastisch! Jammer dat dit letterlijk aan de andere kant van de wereld is, maar gelukkig zijn er ook heel veel andere locaties dichter bij huis waar dit mogelijk is 🙂

  9. Wat een avontuur zeg! En zo gaaf, Ik heb walvissen gespot in Canada op Vancouver Island. Dit was ook echt een avontuur, hier zagen we wel walrussen maar geen dolfijnen.

    • Hé wat toevallig, de eerste keer dat ik walvissen zag was ook op Vancouver Island! Inmiddels al 16 jaar geleden, yikes! Was met Jamie’s Whaling op Tofino. Heel indrukwekkend, nog wel indrukwekkender dan wat ik hier in dit blog beschrijf, want toen zaten we in een kleine zodiac in plaats van een degelijke boot. Vond het wel doodeng zo midden op de oceaan, maar zo gaaf! Geen walrussen gezien toen. Lijkt me ook erg indrukwekkend!

  10. Felice Veenman Reply

    wat een geweldige reis moet dat zijn !! het maakt me wel een beetje jaloers. Goed dat je de vraag durft te stellen hoe vernatwoord sommige tripjes zijn

    • Zat de reisfoto’s van de week te bekijken en we zijn inderdaad van het ene mooie landschap in het andere gerold, echt zo gaaf! Maar jij maakt weer andere mooie dingen mee waar ik niet over mee kan praten, maar via onze blogs kunnen we dan toch een klein beetje meegenieten van de bijzondere momenten in elkaars leven 🙂

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It