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Whale Watching In Kaikoura – Everything To Know

Awesome Kaikoura Whale Watching Experience and guide to the whale watching season

Like the Kaikoura dolphin encounter, the whale watching in Kaikoura is amazing! Kaikoura, in New Zealand, is an incredible coastal town, boasting stunning sea views and populated with a variety of wildlife. One of the stand-out attractions of Kaikoura is, without a doubt, the marine life. Sea-birds, dolphins and sperm whales are just some of the amazing sights you will be able to see in the coastal town. If you wondering when can you see whales in New Zealand? You need to carry on reading!

Whale watching in Kaikoura is an absolute must-do activity and you will no doubt be left in awe at the majestic creatures. So, what information do you need to know before starting your whale watching adventure? I’ll cover everything below, from price, whale watching season and location, so you can focus on what’s important – enjoying yourself!

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Let’s look what’s included in this post for you’

When is the whale watching season in Kaikoura?

There are 2 whale watching seasons in Kaikoura;

  • April to December (Late spring, summer and fall) to see some awesome Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and Dolphins in Kaikoura.
  • January to March (Winter and early spring) for some Gray Whales and Dolphins.

Whale watching is an activity that is affected by time and weather. For example, during the colder times of the year migrating whales may be spotted more, such as humpback whales, blue whales and southern right whales. However, during the summer-time, you may be more likely to see pods of orca whales.

With the sperm whales, you are likely to see them all year round along with common, hector and dusky dolphins. As the whale watching tours are loved by so many people, it’s crucial to book in advance as possible, especially during the summer. In terms of the time of day, mornings will tend to be okay for bookings whereas the afternoon will fill up with bookings much faster.

In terms of weather, temperatures are normally mild ranging from 10°C to 20°C during the day and normally around 10°C at night. Winds can sometimes be very strong and be on the looking for rainfall too.

Check out the Kaikoura weather for an update on the weather if you’re staying in Kaikoura.

whale watching season in Kaikoura New Zealand

How much does whale watching in Kaikoura cost?

So, are you sold yet on the whale watching in Kaikoura? It sounds pretty awesome, right? Well, before you go ahead and book anything, it’s vital to know how much it’s all going to cost. This will usually be the main factor in whether people go for it or not. If you want to see the whales, then it comes with a price.

Let’s look at the Kaikoura whale watching in Kaikoura prices:

Kaikoura Whale Watching by;Prices;
Kaikoura Boat PriceIf you choose to see the Kaikoura whales by boat, you can expect to pay $145 or £115 for an adult and $60 or £47 for children from 3-15. It’s important to note that children under three may not take part in the activity.
Kaikoura Plane PriceTo go for the plane experience, it is going to cost you $180 or £142 for an adult and $75 or £60 for children aged 4-14. Children under four may not take part in this activity so if you have a child under 4 it’s something to take into consideration.
Kaikoura Helicopter Price

The helicopter whale watching experience has a much bigger range of prices depending on the type of tour you go for.

The Kaikoura whale watching helicopter price: For the 30-minute flight, for two passengers, it will cost $325 or £258 and $220 or £175 for 3-4 passengers. The 40-minute flight costs $395 or £313 for two passengers and $265 or £210 for 3-4 passengers.

The coastal whale watch costs $435 or £345 for two passengers and $295 or £234 for 3-4 passengers. Finally, the ‘ top n tail’ tour costs $490 or £389 for two passengers and $330 or £262 for 3-4 passengers.


Based on the prices above, it may be better to get a group of you to go on the helicopter tour. The more people that go on the tour, the lower the overall price is.

So, what’s the best way to book? I recommend either booking an early morning tour or maybe booking an afternoon tour far in advance.

If you’re looking for the best whale watching in Kaikoura, you can check out the link below.

You can book the Kaikoura whale tour Tripadvisor here.

Kaikoura whale watching by boat or plane?

So, what’s the best way to enjoy your experience? Is it by boat or plane?

Here is a list of things to know;

  1. If you do the flight, it doesn’t last as long as the boat tour
  2. You will get more of a scenic view from the flight and you will have incredible views over Kaikoura
  3. The cost is roughly the same for boat tours (I’ve mentioned the costs further in the post)
  4. You won’t get seasick in the air
  5. On the boat, you will get to meet other tourists

Check out my best things to do in Cabo blog post. Here you can watch whales too.

Whale watching in New Zealand

If you have never been whale watching before, you are in for a treat. As the name would suggest, whale watching consists of finding locations that are populated with marine life and watching them as they swim to the surface to say hello. Whale watching can be approached from a variety of ways.

Want to get as close as you can to the action? Hop into a local Kaikoura tour boat for a more personal experience. Prefer to get an aerial view of the whales? Head to the skies in a plane or helicopter. Whichever way you choose to experience the Kaikoura marine life, just know that the views from any angle will be amazing.

On the Kaikoura boat tour, you will also be able to take a dip in the sea, with the wetsuits provided, and get up close and personal with dolphins, whales and other marine life.

It’s not just here you can see them, there’s also the whale watching in Christchurch experience.

You should check out my New Zealand Campervan itinerary.

Kaikoura whale watching duration

How long does the whale watching tour last for? Your tour will last from anything in between 2-3 hours.

This is a perfect period to get plenty of photos of the whales, dolphins and seals that you’ll see on the tour. However, it will seem like a short spell because you will be having so much fun.

If you’re doing the tour from a helicopter or plane, make sure you have a good camera!

What is the best way to see whales in Kaikoura?

As mentioned above, there are three main ways to experience whale watching in Kaikoura: Boat, Plane and Helicopter. Each type of experience will differ in cost so it is always good to weigh up which one you would prefer the most. Some people may be afraid of heights so may go for the boat experience, whereas, others may get seasick so they may prefer to see the whales from above.

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Did you know you can swim with whale sharks in the Philippines? Check out this Oslob whale sharks post to find out more about this amazing experience!

Whale watching by boat, plane or helicopter?

Let’s look:

Kaikoura whale watching by boat

The typical marine tour by boat will be the go-to experience for many people. Experiencing the tour by boat means you can get an up-close look at the whales and other marine life, and even get in the water yourself if you feel up for it. If you want to see the whales up-close, this is the best tour.

While not for everyone, the boat tour does have many advantages over the aerial tours, such as accessibility and freedom to get off the boat and explore the waters. The boat tour lasts around 2 and a half hours and the typical sights you will see are Giant Sperm Whales, Fur Seals, Humpback Whales, Pilot Whales, Blue Whales and Southern Right Whales.

Whale watching by boat in Kaikoura

If you enjoy scenic boat trips, you will love the Milford Sound Cruise, it’s amazing!

Planes to watch the sperm whales in Kaikoura

If soaring the skies and viewing the marine life from above is more up your street, whale watching by plane may be the best route for you. Just imagine the views from 2500 metres up in the air. This is by far one of the most breathtaking and unique ways to see the assortment of whales and Kaikoura in general.

Once aboard the plane, you will be greeted with onboard commentary and will be likely to spot a variety of whales from Sperm Whales, to Humpback, Fin, Pilot, Brydes and much more. Not only will you get to see these beautiful creatures but you will also get to see the Kaikoura Peninsula, Maori fortifications, New Zealand Fur Seals resting and the Kaikoura township. Unlike the longboat tours, the plane experience will take 30 minutes. So, if you are in a rush or don’t fancy spending 2.5 hours on the sea, then the plane could be a good way to go.

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Kaikoura helicopter whale tour

The Kaikoura Helicopter experience is very similar to the plane one but still offers amazing views through the sky. You may feel more comfortable in a helicopter than a plane as they are slightly smaller and may offer a better view of the vehicle.

Just like the plane experience, you will get a commentary from the tour guide and be exposed to a variety of whales and other marine life. The helicopter tour is split up into three different times. The classic whale flight is 30 minutes, the grand whale flight is 40 minutes and the Top’n’Tail flight is 50 minutes.

It’s important to stress, there is no guarantee that you will see a whale. But fear not, as this is very unlikely as ‘Whale Watch’ (a popular whale watching tour guide) has a 95% success rate in finding whales in Kaikoura. They also offer to refund 80% of your fare if you do not see any whales.

You can book the Kaikoura whale tour here.

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Are you travelling around New Zealand? Check out the best things to do in Wellington on your visit to New Zealand!

Here is a list of whale watching tours in Kaikoura;

Hostels and hotels in Kaikoura

There are plenty of places to stay in Kaikoura that range from budget backpacker accommodation to luxury hotels.  If you’re taking a road trip or camping there’s also a few holiday parks within Kaikoura to try including; Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Parks and Alpine-Pacific Holiday Park.

Budget – Dusky Lodge and Backpackers (Approx £40 per night)

If you’re looking for accommodating staff, great service, and excellent facilities in a prime location at a budget price then Dusky Lodge is perfect for you. There are both twin and double rooms with either private or shared bathrooms, as well as kitchen and congregate area, making it a great place to meet other travellers.

Mid-range – First Light Kaikoura (Approx £60 per night)

FirstLight Kaikoura offers incredible apartments with mountain, sea or garden views that are well equipped with free WIFI and finished to a high standard. The staff are very knowledgeable regarding the area and will give top tips of the best things to do.

Luxury – A Room With a View (Approx £100 per night)

Guests staying at Room With a View can relax in the large bathtub on the private balcony and enjoy views over the majestic Kaikoura Ranges, as well as a 180-degree view of the ocean, now what’s not to love. The apartments are very spacious and well equipped with everything you may need to have a fabulous holiday in a great location.

Final Thoughts

There you have it! A full breakdown of all you need to know about whale watching in Kaikoura. From personal experience, it is one of the most surreal sights to see a whale in the flesh. Being able to do some from either a boat, plane or helicopter is such a privilege and something everyone should at least try in there life.

Cost-wise, the boat tours are the most cost-effective but if you fancy seeing the marine life from the skies then you shouldn’t hesitate at all.

One thing is for sure, you won’t be short on stunning pictures for Instagram by the time you finish a whale watching tour in Kaikoura!

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