Blenheim to Kaikoura Road Trip

kaikoura canterbury

After a hearty breakfast of deliciously light crepes served with blueberries, cream and maple syrup, we bid farewell to Blenheim and drive south on SH1 through a thirsty landscape to Seddon, where lush, regimented rows of vines cover its slopes.

We’ve had our fill of wine – and the boot is crammed with bottles – so we continue on past the salt works at Lake Grassmere to Wharanui, where the road meets the Pacific Ocean and follows the railway line south to The Store at Kekerengu. It’s midway between Kaikoura and Blenheim and here we pause for refreshment, sipping flat whites on the terrace just metres from the shore.

Revived, we continue on the road that hugs the rocky, kelp-lined coastline to the tiny township of Rakautara, where Nin’s Bin, a caravan embedded in the rocks by the sea, sells freshly harvested and cooked crayfish to passersby.

Further on at Ohau Point New Zealand fur seals bask on the rocks. “Look,” says Bob, pointing to a seal flapping its flipper at a fly, “he’s waving to me!”

“Pace yourself,” I say, as he snaps merrily away, “there’s loads more to see yet... sperm whales, Dusky dolphins, Royal albatross and even the endangered Hector’s dolphin if we’re lucky.”

“Why do they congregate here?,” asks Bob as we return to the car, and I explain about the Hikurangi Trough, a huge, submarine chasm complete with plains, ancient volcanoes and gorges just off the coast near Kaikoura. Here warm northern waters mix with a nutrient-rich Antarctic flow and its upwelling’s provide a rich source of food, attracting a wealth of marine life.

Arriving in Kaikoura we fortify ourselves with wholesome seafood chowder served with home baked bread at Hislops, a popular organic café on SH1, then after confirming our whale watching cruise with Whale Watch Kaikoura we drive through town to the information centre.

From the acclaimed whale watching tours, to swimming with Dusky dolphins, albatross watching, snorkelling, diving, sea kayaking, and rides in glass-bottomed boats, the town offers a marine-based activity for everyone.

For landlubbers there’s the local arts and crafts trail; the Maori Leap Caves; wine tasting on the decks of the Kaikoura Wine Company overlooking the ocean; the District Museum; and horse trekking or golf – just to name a few options!

We sit on Kaikoura’s shingle beach admiring the view of the jagged ranges which plummet to the sea and watching local fishermen camped on deck chairs pull in sizeable snapper. Bob walks over for a look-see and then we drive up the rocky Kaikoura peninsula past historic Fyffe House to the Kaikoura Wildlife Refuge.

It’s a popular place to view seals – and to swim with them, as we discover after scrambling over twisted limestone rocks to watch a group of snorkellers. “They’re really playful,” an American backpacker tells Bob as she emerges from the water, “curious and friendly.”

It is late afternoon when we check into a B&B on the outskirts of town, before joining our whale watch tour and travelling out to sea aboard Aoraki, an 18-metre catamaran. A large screen shows our depth and we watch in awe as we pass over the continental shelf and the depth changes from 60 metres to a radical 1236 metres!

Captain Hama locates a whale’s position on the GPS, then turns off the engines and listens on the hydrophone for its rhythmic, clicking sonar. We stand on the viewing decks scouring the water.

“Thaaarrrr she blows,” cries Bob suddenly, pointing to a whale that surfaces with a spurt of misty vapour.

Silently we watch this great mammal re-oxygenate against a dramatic mountain backdrop as the sun begins to set. Our guide, Gemma, tells us he’s a young sperm whale. They often frequent this coast and feast upon its abundant food supply.

Suddenly to our right another huge column of spray is blown sky high as a second whale empties its lungs. Captain Hama monitors its breathing to make sure he’s relaxed and happy with our presence. “It’s Te Ake,” says Gemma, recognising his prominent dorsal fin, “he likes the boats.”

Our first whale slowly lowers its blowhole into the water, flicks its graceful tail, and departs. We watch Te Ake until he finally does the same, flicking his tail with a flourish as if to bid us farewell before disappearing with the sun. Our boat returns to base and after a delicious meal of succulent Kaikoura crayfish at The Craypot, we return to our B&B and with Te Ake’s plume-blowing firmly etched in our memories fall into a peaceful slumber.