Kaikoura, NZ: a community united in conservation

Kaikoura - a tiny seaside community (pop: 4,500) on the eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island - leads the charge in community conservation / sustainable tourism for New Zealand.

In February 2014, the Kaikoura community was awarded the EarthCheck Platinum Certificate for Environmental Performance - the first community in the Southern Hemisphere to achieve this.

Kaikoura has been collecting environmental information since 1999 and, in 2002, became the first local authority in the world to achieve Green Globe accreditation. In 2010, Kaikoura was awarded EarthCheck Gold. EarthCheck / EC3 Global, which operates in 70-plus countries, is the world’s leading environmental benchmarking and certification programme for the travel and tourism industry.

Kaikoura - nature destination

Kaikoura (in the Canterbury region, north of Christchurch) is one of New Zealand’s top nature tourism destinations. This is based on year-round whale-watching and spectacular scenery - a peninsula of wild rugged coastline, between the Pacific Ocean and the snow-capped peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, rising to 2600m and forming a dramatic background for the marine life that is often seen close to shore.

Resident sperm whales are the main attraction, but there are at least another eight whale varieties regularly seen including the humpback and blue whale. Other native populations include New Zealand fur seal, rare Hector’s and Dusky dolphins, Royal albatross and a huge variety of seabird species.

Whale Watch Kaikoura - responsible tourism

Multi award-winning tourism operator Whale Watch Kaikoura each year takes around 100,000 visitors out on to the Pacific Ocean to view (with 95% success rate) the giant sperm whales that frequent this rich marine environment.

Whale Watch Kaikoura is dedicated to providing a quality whale watching experience while respecting and carefully managing the use of a rare natural resource. The experience is enriched with stories of the local people, their traditions and their history. The company works actively to reduce its carbon footprint.

Whale Watch is a local community trust that belongs to the Māori people of Kaikoura, who operate in partnership with their tribal people. This is also the story of how a community in need found a new impetus within itself.

Founded in 1987, Whale Watch has been a key factor in turning around the town’s declining economy. Operating as a charitable entity, Whale Watch returns a significant portion of profits into the community for education and employment, and to protect the environment. The community’s major employer, it has inspired other successful tourism and service businesses that have sprung up in the wake of the whale watching operation.

Commitment to the environment

Whale Watch Kaikoura, which works closely with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC), has set a global standard in eco-tourism. International recognition includes:

  • Lonely Planet’s Code Green: Experiences of a Lifetime - 100 responsible travel experiences
  • Early recipient of New Zealand’s Qualmark Enviro-Gold status
  • 2010 Tourism for Tomorrow Award for best practice in sustainable tourism
  • 2009 winner of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards.

But the story doesn’t stop with Whale Watch. Many Kaikoura operators have a green thread through their operations, caring for the environment which brings tourists from all over the world. Other notable eco-tourism businesses include:

  • Seal Swim Kaikoura - a small family-run business - was named in 2013 as one of the world’s top 10 ‘Best Marine Encounters’ by Lonely Planet. Seal Swim Kaikoura takes small groups out into the ocean to swim with New Zealand fur seals.
  • Dolphin Encounter - which runs dolphin swims and albatross tours - made the top 10 list in the Travel Guide Lonely Planet 1000 Ultimate Experiences book.
  • Kaikoura Wilderness Walk - an exclusive guided wilderness experience on a private alpine walking track (30km from Kaikoura, the highest privately owned property in New Zealand) that is dedicated to conservation of a population of endangered Huttons shearwater.
  • Hapuku Tree Houses and Lodge - contemporary country inn accommodation in sustainable style, 10m above ground in a tree house. The lodge serves exceptional food and sources 75% of ingredients locally. Hapuku’s eco vision is typical of many New Zealand accommodation and tourism activities and includes planting (11,500 native plants and trees to date), re-introducing native birds, and being sustainable in operations - reduce, recycle and compost.