Our final stop on the South Island was Kaikoura. From Franz Josef we had a brief stop in Reefton, a small town on the Lewis pass known for its mining history. Then onward to Kaikoura, a small tourist town just north of Christchurch, that made international news in 2016 after a 7.8 earthquake. The town continues to rebuild and the road between Kaikoura and Picton only recently opened. Kaikoura is well known for its marine life. Sperm whales and dusky dolphins are permanent residents off the coast, and the locals are starting to see more diverse marine life during migrating season. We learned about the Kaikoura Canyon, which is 500m out from the peninsula and plunges to 1200m - 1600m in depth, making a great environment for whales, dolphins, seals and a variety of fish. Our first day we completed the peninsula walk, taking us up over the top, into South Bay, and then back over the peninsula arm into Kaikoura. The peninsula extends about 5km out into the ocean, giving walkers great views of the various bays and rocks, as well as the seal colony baking by the water. We even spotted some dolphins off the coast at the start of our walk, playing and feeding midday.
Our second day we ventured out into South Bay in search of whales, dolphins and other marine life...we were not disappointed. With 2hrs on the water we had three encounters with sperm whales and watched a large pod of dusky dolphins playing, human watching, and putting on a bit of a show!
We learned that sperm whales surface for about 5 minutes before deep diving again for approximately 45-60min, and they are the largest toothed whale feeding on everything from tuna, squid and even sharks. Thankfully they surface in the same general area...so the whale watching company has its points of reference, an echo microphone, and a spotter that helped us find the whales. The dolphins on the other hand seem to look for humans, and then play around putting on a show to ensure we are thoroughly entertained. And we were! Interesting fact is that their jumping actually helps the rest of the pod feed, as it scares the fish at the surface levels and sends them down towards the waiting dolphins...sneaky!
Our drive toward Picton put the earthquake damage into perspective. The earthquake caused 9 slips along highway 1, traveling north. The highway continues to be closed overnight for safety reasons, and the train traveling north is postponed indefinitely. As we drove the length of the work section (41 km) the scars on the mountain sides were profound.