NZ eco-tourism: Whale Watch Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a leading nature tourist destination, best-known for its whale watching tours.

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 scenic 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.

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.

Award-winning tourism
Multi award-winning Whale Watch Kaikoura each year takes around 100,000 visitors out on to the Pacific Ocean to view - with 95 percent 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.

Whale Watch is a local community trust that belongs to the Māori people of Kaikoura, who operate in partnership with their affiliated tribal people - the Ngai Tahu.

Tourist destination
Founded in 1987, Whale Watch has been a key factor in turning around the town’s declining economy.

Now a leading tourist destination, Kaikoura offers a diverse range of marine activities which have, in turn, stimulated investment in new accommodation, restaurants, cafes and galleries filled with the work of local artists.

The company that has put Kaikoura firmly on the tourist map is the largest employer in town during the peak tourist season.

Operating as a charitable entity, it has an annual turnover of NZ$10 million, of which a significant portion goes back into the community to be used for education, employment, relief and protecting the environment.

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.

It is one of two New Zealand eco-tourism firms featured in the Lonely Planet publication Code Green: Experiences of a Lifetime - a guide to 100 responsible travel experiences that fulfil criteria for minimal impact on the environment, immersion in the local culture and positive economic benefit for the community.

Whale Watch Kaikoura was amongst the first in New Zealand to gain the coveted Tourism New Zealand Qualmark Enviro-Gold status.

Kaikoura was also the first place in New Zealand - and the second in the world - to achieve Green Globe accreditation, affirming the community’s commitment to the environment.

In 2009, Whale Watch Kaikoura was named overall winner in the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards, and also won the 'Marine Environment' category.

Company steps to reduce their carbon footprint include:

  • buying buses and vessels with more efficient fuel consumption which meet or exceed low emission standards
  • using an energy supplier that generates 60 percent electricity from renewable resources of geothermal and hydro
  • promoting and supporting ‘trees for travellers’ - a local initiative that gives visitors the opportunity to buy and plant a tree to offset their carbon emissions.

Whale Watch Kaikoura also takes young students on free whale watching trips and runs education programmes in schools to educate children on what they can do to protect the marine environment.