Consider that Whale...watched...Done!

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
Where I stayed
Picton campsite

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kate has wanted to go whale watching for ages. Well since we saw an advert in Australia anyway. I noted an opportunity; a 'world famous' Whale Watch on the South Island of New Zealand at Kaikoura and so we were driving south from Picton for 4 hours to get there in time for our 3.30pm sailing.

The drive was mostly easy with a few strong breezes off the coastline when we got that far. We took the opportunity to do some shopping on the way in Blenheim (known for it’s wineries) but sadly had to drive through this nice area quite quickly – it just doesn’t fit the schedule. Whales were calling.

When most of the way to Kaikoura (Prounounced Kackooda we think) and shortly after Kate had awoken from her slumber she spotted a couple of black blobs on the shoreline of the beach, and then a couple more black blobs on the rocks and then there seemed to be loads of black blobs.

We pulled over and found out what these blobs were; a fur seal colony. We stopped for a while and got as close as we were willing without angering them and took some nice photos. It was a great moment of luck as Kate had been asleep and I was zoned out entirely on driving; if she hadn’t woken, we simply wouldn’t have seen them. They were found about 25-30km north of Kaikoura on the grey sandy coastline.

The little seaside town of Kaikoura houses amongst very little else; a garage (where we refilled our gas –woohoo), a minigolf place, a couple of little shops, a fish and chips shop, the whale watch centre and various associated companies and a few holiday places. It was the first place we had come across for 100km and there wasn’t a lot there. The town seems to be doing well thanks to the Whale Watch centre and the various tours it offers. We were taking the traditional Whale Watch tour, costing $140 each which is about 70 quid English. It sounds expensive but wait.

We were a little early, it was a little breezy and we were told that the captain would be calling in soon to confirm the sailing would be taking place- we arrived at 3pm for a 3.30 tour. At 3.20pm, nearly everyone was there for the tour but we were being told the same thing, except with the added "don’t worry, the briefing doesn’t start until 4 so please wait around until then" – well if the briefing starts at 4pm, why don’t you say the tour starts at 4pm. We don’t want to stand around for the fun of it, we are paying good money for this. The ‘captain’ called in and had informed the staff in the centre of a ‘strong sea sickness warning’ but the show was going on. We had taken tablets that we had left over from the Whitsundays so we would be fine. Everyone else was being informed that if they wanted to they could buy tablets from the handily placed shop. No cynicism here at all. For $140 I would expect someone to hold the bag for me when I’m sick.

Finally at 4pm we gathered in the briefing room for the safety briefing that lasted all of 2 minutes, if that. I will come back to this point later on in my rant….I mean blog.

A shuttle bus carried us the 8 minutes to the South Bay and the small little harbor for the Whale Watch boats. A mini armada of sparkling catamarans. We boarded to be welcomed by no less then about 6 staff (a rundown was given of jobs etc but I only noted captain, tour guide person, watcher? And the health guy) and sat down in the padded seats. Nice and comfy. We were sat in a row of 4, myself next to a Spanish gentleman who was sat by the window and Kate adjacent to me with a slightly older slightly geeky looking man, I think German sat by the aisle.

We ploughed out to sea, at first nice and easy getting out of the harbor (approximately 3-4 minutes after setting sail) but then quick and bouncy as the Cat soared over the waves. I note the timings as at the start of sitting down, this would surely be the ideal time to give a safety briefing – in the actual boat, not 10 minutes away in a briefing room that looked nothing like a boat. It’s like on Friends when Phoebe tries to teach Joey how to play the guitar but he’s not actually allowed to use the guitar. A bit pointless, and badly managed but at least it gives someone else a job.

The tour itself = Plough out to sea, stop, everyone look for whales, nobody see any whales, back inside, plough somewhere else, stop, everyone get up and look for whales, nobody see any whales etc etc. It got to the point where I was hoping we wouldn’t see a whale because then at least we would get 80% of our fee back, a Whale Watch promise if they don’t successfully provide a viewing. The Captain drives the Cat around and then hops out at each stop with a microphone on a long pole to try and hear them beneath the waves, then when he gets back in his chair it’s because he has the scent of one. He’s a bit like a bloodhound in that sense.

After about the 3rd stop the German bloke next to Kate looked slightly uneasy. He hadn’t got up out of his chair as yet and looking at him, he didn’t seem like he was likely to. He grabbed one of the paper bags placed thoughtfully in the seat in front and emptied his lunch as quick as possible. Now for some irony, me and Kate were parked next to this German during Lunch and commented to ourselves on how nice it smelt. It didn’t smell quite as nice on it’s way back out again.

When we all got up again on stop 4 the German just sat there clutching this bag, like it was something he treasured. I spoke quietly to the young healthcare staff member and suggested he may want to remove the bag of fluid from the man before he pops it everywhere. He put on his little plastic glove, took the bag and didn’t take his glove off again. For the rest of the journey he was tending to our German and a Chinese man a couple of rows in front as they in turn made sure the guy earnt his money and didn’t get a free ride. He at that point did not look like he was enjoying his work.

About stop 4 we were told by the tour guide that a whale had been spotted. We were taken alongside (about 30 metres off) and sat watching for a while. It didn’t doo much. This type, the sperm whale, doesn’t do much at the surface of the water and so all you see is about 10% of his body for a few minutes taking air with little spout blows and then just before diving down you get a little tail flick. Job done. Right, so where now, got easily an hour left – get us another whale, right?

Wrong. With their money in the bag – no refunds today. It was back along to do a little bit of easy time-wasting with some seals sitting on rocks and some local birds before taking us back to the harbour.

Although it would have been lovely for some who hadn’t seen any seals in the wild, we had seen some earlier in the day and had come on a Whale watching tour, not a ‘quick view of a whale and then seal and seabird tour’. During this part of the tour all the staff but the tour guide has an easy time sitting back and thinking about all the money they had earnt. To give the tour guide credit he managed to fill about 2 hours of what would be tedium with some relatively interesting chat and visuals on the screen inside the Cat about all the other interesting whales that live in New Zealand’s waters that you will almost definitely not see.

I don’t blame them – it is easy money for clearly quite stupid clients. I feel a bit stupid, I also feel robbed. They own a bit of a monopoly on the tours and so are making a killing and the tourists are willing to keep flocking to it. I said earlier it sounds expensive but wait. I said wait to allow me to emphasise how expensive it not only sounds but how expensive it actually is. For what they offer, it should be $40 cheaper, at least.

The 5 strong armada of Catamaran is now explained. As is the 6 strong staff on the boat, and the need for the briefing room at the whale watch centre. This company have far too much money. For the cost of the tour, you can see why.

You will see a whale.

And for that please ignore me if I sound like I am having a whine when I shouldn’t be. Yes we saw a whale, yes that was great – but for me, the whole experience is where the cost should come. The service should be swift and timed to perfection, the staff should look busy and active, the whale should be priority and more sightings should be sought on completion of a viewing. None of this seemed to be the case.

For the cost we could have gone Kayaking in Abel Tasman or drinking huge amounts of wine in the Marlborough region. We had pretty much made a massive detour for the watching having gone south quickly to make sure we can make it westwards for our glacier hike before having to return the Camper.

To make up for it I am determined to make sure we don’t miss our booked Glacier walk and so straight after the tour head across the hills for 3 hours to our overnight lodgings, leaving about 7 hours of driving tomorrow. We arrive in the pitch black in driving rain at 10pm after a ride through the hills where I came across maybe 6 other vehicles and killed at least one bird. I did feel bad for it but it flew straight under the camper when it was perfectly safely out of the way. I saw it flapping around in its death throws in the rear view mirror as I held my hand to my mouth in horror and sped off without even contemplating stopping for CPR.

Straight to bed for an ultra day of driving tomorrow. Let’s hope we make some better decisions.
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • You must enter a comment
  • You must enter your name
  • You must enter a valid name (" & < > \ / are not accepted).
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


H on

I think perhaps you were just unlucky - When I did this trip we sighted four whales, several albatross and were surrounded by a pod of about 500 dolphins all leaping and showing off! Oh and seals of course. Well worth it.

martinandkate on

Sadly it seems that we were not alone in our experience however as another person I bumped into today had similar problems with the tour. It's not the tour's fault per-se as they don't control the Whales, but they certainly set the prices. Glad you enjoyed it though!

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: