UPDATE: Kaikoura Earthquake November 2016
Our thoughts, best wishes and prayers are with everyone affected by the earthquakes that struck the northern areas of New Zealand’s South Island.
Please know that you have many friends around the world who are standing with you through this very tough time. We are all looking forward to seeing you back on your feet very soon. We also can’t wait to come back to visit and spend time with you in our beloved Kaikoura, one of the most beautiful and special places on Earth.
Best wishes and take care WS!
Sometimes to see something differently you need to change your perspective!
I just love being on top of mountains or up in aeroplanes. I can spend hours searching out all the tiny details in the world below. I’ve whale watched from boats and cliff tops for many years but never from the air, so it was with great delight that I went into the wild blue yonder with Wings Over Whales, Kaikoura!
The Kaikoura Canyon
Kaikoura on New Zealand’s South Island is an amazing bio hot spot and one of the few places on earth where you can see Sperm Whales very close to the coast. This is because New Zealand’s continental shelf drops over a 1000 metres into the Kaikoura Canyon only a few kilometres from the coast. The Kaikoura Canyon is U shaped, 60 kilometres long and in places up to 1200 meters deep. It leeds into the even larger 1500 kilometre long Hikurangi Channel and then out to the southwest Pacific Basin.
If the Canyon wasn’t dramatic enough there are the mountains coming right down to the coast as well, snow capped in winter the Seaward Kaikoura’s are a dramatic and beautiful backdrop. Formed by the Marlborough fault system, they are seen as the northernmost extension of the Southern Alps on the South Island. The mountain range dominates the coast rising straight from the coast north of Kaikoura township to the 2,608 metre height of Mount Manakau.
The Sperm Whale
Maybe the term EPIC is used a bit too much but I really don’t know how else you could describe one of the largest predators on earth. Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales, has the largest brain of any animal, can hold its breath for hours, can dive thousands of metres to the depth of the oceans and is famed for its epic battles with eight meter long Giant Squid! I mean REALLY?
Into The Air!
Its a simply beautiful day for flying, clear, sunny and calm. Very happy camper! The seven of us pile into WOW’s Airvan for our half hour whale watching flight. I’ve never been in an Airvan before so am impressed with this smart little aircraft, comfortable seats and large clear windows that are perfect for viewing and photographing whales. The Airvan is a very popular single-engined utility aircraft manufactured by GippsAero in Victoria, Australia.
Kaikoura airport is situated just behind the beach, right next to South Bay making it perfectly placed and only a few minutes flying time from the Canyon which maximises our time with the whales. Liam, our pilot gets us up in the air and we turn east out over South Bay. I’m always amazed that as soon as your ever so slightly up in the air the world becomes this fascinating miniature world. I’m seated in the very back row with a great views out each side of the aircraft.
Close to shore we fly over a large pod of Dusky Dolphins but we don’t stop to check them out just yet as Liam thinks he has seen a whale further out! We’re in luck! Sperm whales spend about ten minutes on the surface recharging their blood with oxygen so they can make their epic dives into the deep. These dives average 45 minutes, sometimes longer so you have to have a little bit of luck going your way to spot one on the surface. Within a few minutes we are over our whale and Liam banks the aircraft into a tight turn giving us an amazing view.
Cruising along the surface is a massive Sperm Whale! They really are unlike any of the other whale species with strange lumps, bumps and all shrivelled to boot.
Liam circles back and forth giving each side of the plane a great view of the whale. Our Sperm Whales doesn’t seem to be up to very much and in the end we come to believe its having a sleep. Whales are conscious breathers, they have to actively decided to take each breath unlike us who breath subconsciously without having to think about it. So to sleep whales are able to shut down half of their brain at a time and rest it. The other half remains alert so they can continue to swim and breath. After ten minutes we decide to move on and see what else we can find.
Liam takes us back towards the coast and we are very lucky to spot another whale on the surface. This whale is more active, moving along and with regular blows. Liam again takes us into an orbit above the whale and we are treated to another fantastic view. Two whales in one flight is amazing!
…after a few minutes more our whale starts to dive. Sperm whales dive rather spectacularity by going strait down, lifting their tails into the air.
We turn for home and to visit some little friends along the way.
Wings Over Whales, Kaikoura
Wings Over Whales operates a Gippsland GA8 Airvan and Cessna 172 from Kaikoura Airfield just south of the town along the main highway. Whale watching flights leave daily depending on weather conditions. Please see the Wings Over Whales website for current conditions and trip availability. WOK Website
Wings Over Whales
617 State Highway 1, Kaikoura
Ph: +64 3 319 6580
My great thanks to John and Liam from Wings Over Whales for taking me up to see the whales and for their great support and encouragement in creating this story.
Nikon D610 with Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f4G ED VR
Nikon D7200 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens
Thanks to Nikon Australia for their continued support and encouragement! Nikon Australia