Kaikoura tourism operators are celebrating the opening of their new Kaikoura Marina – a year to the day when a massive earthquake rocked their town.
For wildlife tourism specialists Whale Watch Kaikoura and Encounter Kaikoura, the multi-million dollar marina provides improved facilities and a return to their pre-earthquake summer operating schedules – a real cause to celebrate after 12 months of striving to keep their businesses alive.
Tourism is the biggest employer in town and the community came together twice today (14.11.2017) at the marina, once at dawn for a full Māori blessing followed by the official opening at midday.
The moving dawn service took the form of a blessing led by the local Māori iwi (tribe) Ngāti Kuri marking the symbolic reconnection of Kaikōura to the ocean. It is 40 years this year since members of the tribe launched the whale watching tours that put Kaikoura on the international tourism map and helped reverse the economic decline of the small community. However, operations have been limited since last year’s earthquake raised parts of the sea bed 2-metres above sea level making the wharf too shallow to operate at low tide.
To download the above video and more images click here
For Whale Watch Kaikoura General Manager Kauahi Ngapora the opening is "an amazing milestone".
The marina opening comes just a month before the anticipated reopening of the main north – south highway linking Kaikoura with Marlborough to the north and the ferries between New Zealand’s North and South islands. One of New Zealand’s most scenic ocean drives, the SH1 coastal route was blocked by a series of landslides during the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and has been closed since then for major reconstruction. Remedial works will be on going but the road is scheduled to reopen for daytime traffic from 15 December.
The earthquake has also given Kaikoura some new natural visitor attractions including an extra kilometre of rocky seashore at the tip on the Kaikoura Peninsula, a new surf break in town, spherical ‘dinosaur’ boulders that emerged from the sea bed and curious Hope Springs where bubbles escaping from undersea fissures break through the ocean’s surface.
At the same time, tour operators say that the marine wildlife is as active as ever. Along with the resident population of young male sperm whales living just offshore, there have been recent sightings of transient sperm whales on their southern migration along with the usual populations of Dusky and Hector’s dolphins, NZ fur seals, albatross and other sea birds.
Kaikoura, New Zealand’s most visited wildlife destination, is home to several internationally recognised wildlife tourism operators including Whale Watch Kaikoura, Encounter Kaikoura (which runs dolphin and albatross tours), Kaikoura Kayaks, Wings over Whales and Seal Swim Kaikoura.
Kaikoura - a small seaside town on the east coast of the South Island - is one of the New Zealand’s leading nature tourism destinations.
This year-round whale-watching destination is also renowned for its spectacular location - a rugged coastline, between the Pacific Ocean and the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, which provides a dramatic background for the marine life that is often seen close to shore.
Multi award-winning Whale Watch Kaikoura each year takes around 100,000 visitors out on to the Pacific Ocean to view - with 95 per cent success rate - the giant sperm whales that frequent this rich marine environment.
While resident sperm whales are the main attraction, other cetaceous visitors to this coast include the humpback, minke, blue, fin, sei, killer, beaked and pilot whales. The humpback passes through Kaikoura on its annual pilgrimage to Antarctic waters to feed. There are also substantial populations of NZ fur seals, Dusky and Hector’s dolphins, and albatross.
Kaikoura means ‘eating crayfish’ in Māori (kai = food/eat, koura = crayfish) so it’s not surprising that eating crayfish (similar to lobster but smaller) is another must- do in a town by that name.