Chasing Whales and Seals – Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

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As we left the Marlborough wine region, we made one last stop at Peter Yealand’s vineyard. This winery uses environmentally-friendly growing and wine-making procedures. The location of his grapevines was dubious at first, as he chose an area with many hills that are battered by strong winds. Somehow, it all paid off and his wines have become extremely popular worldwide. We were lucky to do a very extensive tasting with a Canadian man who was running the tastings that day. We must have tried nearly 15 wines, I tried to stick to white wines only, as I had a bit of driving to do. The wines were spectacular and very complex. We really liked the idea of his everyday drinking wines that are bottled in plastic for easier transport and they can easily be recycled. We stopped to have a picnic lunch among the grapevines.

Peter Yealands - environmentally conscious wine producer near Marlborough.Peter Yealands - environmentally conscious wine producer near Marlborough.
Peter Yealands - environmentally conscious wine producer near Marlborough.23-Nov-2011 12:56
 

Our road trip took us along the beautiful East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The scenery was absolutely stunning. Crystal blue ocean water meeting huge mountain cliffs. It was all the magnificent things you think of when you picture a New Zealand road trip.

The stunning drive down the South Island's western coast to Kaikoura.The stunning drive down the South Island's western coast to Kaikoura.
The stunning drive down the South Island's western coast to Kaikoura.23-Nov-2011 14:36
 

As we got closer to our next destination, Kaikoura, we were searching for this secret family of New Zealand fur seals. We had read online about this out of the way spot where you can see a group of baby seals playing in a stream and under a waterfall. Along the way, our friendly Tourism Radio host Jane told us about the secret spot as well.

The Ohau Stream Walk - a large seal pup rookery.The Ohau Stream Walk - a large seal pup rookery.
The Ohau Stream Walk - a large seal pup rookery.23-Nov-2011 15:00
 

We found the parking area, and as we walked up the small path through the trees and along the stream, we spotted our first furry friends. Four tiny fur seals were just playing around swimming in a shallow pool of the stream. They were just precious. We were able to get quite close to them and watch them enjoying their playtime with their seal siblings and friends. A few other people got a bit too close to them and even touched them. Although it’s tempting, it’s dangerous in several ways. Even though they seem very sweet and cute, they can still pack a strong bite if they feel scared or threatened. And the mothers will often abandon their pups if they feel (or smell) they have been touched by human hands.

Heather observing the playful seal pups from a safe distance.Heather observing the playful seal pups from a safe distance.
Heather observing the playful seal pups from a safe distance.23-Nov-2011 16:04
 

After enjoying the first pool of seal pups, we continued along up towards the waterfall. We would see a pup or two just floating in the stream, flipping around occasionally. I found a lone seal at the bottom of a hill in the stream. He was so curious and checked me out for a good 5 minutes as I said hello from above. Just adorable!

One of the pups drying out on a rock.One of the pups drying out on a rock.
One of the pups drying out on a rock.25-Nov-2011 17:27
 

When we reached the waterfall, we were awestruck by the beautiful scene. A lush waterfall full of about 20 or more playful seal pups. They were having a blast playing with each other and put on quite a show. There were a few adolescent seals along the path up on some rocks, so we tried not to disturb them as we walked by. One of the adolescents must have been feeling protective or scared, and made it known that he didn’t like us standing so close to the waterfall pool and chased us a bit down the path.

The waterfall and pool at the end of the walking trail.The waterfall and pool at the end of the walking trail.
The waterfall and pool at the end of the walking trail.25-Nov-2011 16:55
 

The waterfall and stream make a very safe spot for the seals to learn to swim and the mothers can feel worry-free as they go out to feed during the day as they know their pups will be safe in the waterfall and stream far from any predators.

The stream and waterfall provide a safe haven for the tiny seals.The stream and waterfall provide a safe haven for the tiny seals.
The stream and waterfall provide a safe haven for the tiny seals.25-Nov-2011 16:38
 

We loved these little guys so much, we drove back the next day to say Hi again! It was a wonderful way to see seal pups up close and in a natural environment. And as a bonus, it’s FREE!

These little guys were so much fun to watch!These little guys were so much fun to watch!
These little guys were so much fun to watch!25-Nov-2011 17:26
 

We checked into our adorable little cabin at the holiday park. We hit the supermarket to stock up on supplies, but ventured into town to check out the restaurants and bars. In town, we ran into a nice English couple that we had met on our wine tour in Marlborough. It was our lucky day, the Strawberry Tree pub was having their weekly pub quiz. We love pub quizzes! After ordering dinner and a couple of beers, we joined in. We were just a team of two and no real match for some of the regular group teams. Although we did get a few questions right that no one else did (one was about a ticker tape parade), we really had no chance. It was the toughest pub quiz we’d been to. The host was really funny and did say that the questions were particularly tough that night. Ah well, it made for a fun night out.

While we were in Kaikoura, it was Thanksgiving! At the local supermarket, we stocked up on whatever comfort Thanksgiving food items we could. It was so nice to cook our Thanksgiving feast in the holiday park’s huge kitchen. As an appetizer, we made my Mom & Caite’s special caramelized brie with pecans. We substituted chicken for turkey (it was far too expensive) and made candied sweet potatoes, homemade mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, my famous corn bread pudding, stuffing and sauteed zucchini.

Thanksgiving Dinner outside our holiday park cabin.Thanksgiving Dinner outside our holiday park cabin.
Thanksgiving Dinner outside our holiday park cabin.24-Nov-2011 18:12
 

Even with the time difference, we managed to Skype with both of our families while they were celebrating the holiday. It was almost as if we were right there with them. We ate our Thanksgiving feast along with a nice New Zealand sauvignon blanc on our table overlooking the trees and mountains. It was a really nice way to celebrate the holiday.

A local Sauvignon Blanc overlooking the mountains surrounding Kaikoura.A local Sauvignon Blanc overlooking the mountains surrounding Kaikoura.
A local Sauvignon Blanc overlooking the mountains surrounding Kaikoura.24-Nov-2011 18:33
 

One of the main draws of Kaikoura is its sperm whale watching cruises. We love our humpbacks, but were excited to see sperm whales up close. Our Top 10 Holiday Park card helped us get a discount, but it was still extremely expensive. It was a gorgeous day and we hopped onboard and enjoyed the sea views.

One of the Whale Watch Kaikoura boats.One of the Whale Watch Kaikoura boats.
One of the Whale Watch Kaikoura boats.24-Nov-2011 10:13
 

Sperm whales are often found off of Kaikoura’s coast. They are somewhat shy and our captain resorted to using a hydrophone (an underwater microphone) to try to find us a sperm whale.

Our captain using a hydrophone to search for Moby Dick.Our captain using a hydrophone to search for Moby Dick.
Our captain using a hydrophone to search for Moby Dick.24-Nov-2011 09:31
 

We finally saw one! Although it wasn’t quite as exciting as we’d anticipated. Sperm whales spend most of their time underwater, only surfacing for 10 minutes an hour to breathe and re-oxygenate. Mainly, they just float and breathe.

Thar she blows! A sperm whale off Kaikoura.Thar she blows! A sperm whale off Kaikoura.
Thar she blows! A sperm whale off Kaikoura.24-Nov-2011 10:22
 

Finally, the big moment is when they dive back down and show off their massive tails. It was interesting to see, although our love remains stronger for the humpbacks.

Our last glimpse of the whale's tail before diving back to the icy depths below.Our last glimpse of the whale's tail before diving back to the icy depths below.
Our last glimpse of the whale's tail before diving back to the icy depths below.24-Nov-2011 10:31
 

Kaikoura was a wonderful wildlife stop for us, and a charming place to celebrate Thanksgiving. If you ever find yourself travelling through Kaikoura, be sure to spot at the Ohau Waterfall walk parking area to see New Zealand fur seal pups in action!

About Heather

Heather and Erik set off on a round-the-world trip in April, 2010, travelling overland through Central and South America before getting engaged in Antarctica. In 2011-2012 they tackled Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

One thought on “Chasing Whales and Seals – Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

  1. Rea

    Hi Heather, your trip looks amazing! I’m interested to know what time of year and what time of day you made it to see the Seal Pups. I am planning a trip for August and cannot miss seeing these gorgeous little guys!

    Reply

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