Friday, May 2, 2014


Best for whale watching
executive summary by darmansjah

Kaikoura’ is literally translated as ‘to eat crayfish’ in Maori, our biggest indication that this final stop – before driving back to Christchurch for our flight home – will involve lots of action at sea. Teeming with a rich source of diverse marine life, throngs of locals and tourists alike come here for whale watching activities, swimming with playful dolphins, fishing, seal-sighting on rocks south of town, and of course, digging into sumptuous crayfish feasts.

As part of our self-drive luxury road-trip, we make a turn for Wings Over Whales, an exclusive whale watching experience onboard a high-winged plane. Deep trenches off the Kaikoura Coast make favourable feeding spots for whales, where Managing Director john Macphail first set up the company back in 1991. Pilot Pete Fantham takes us up to the skies this afternoon, taking time to do a brief introduction of the different whale species and their diving habits, before finally showing us a pictorial whale chart – so se can identify the sperm whale, the most commonly sighted cetacean, “And if you’re really lucky,’ he adds, “ you might just get to see a blue whale, the largest mammal on earth”.

Strapping into the eight-seater Gippsland GA9 Airvan, we take off, turning in a grand loop across the undulating triangles of stunning snow-capped mountains that is the Southern Alps, with Pete tuning in to his radio for potential whale sightings. Before I know it, Pete’s voice is suddenly blasting through the speakers in sheer incredulousness.

“To your left!” I can’t believe it, that’s a massive blue whale right there!”

Within seconds, the mammal dives back in, and we continue circling the waters where we spot a pack of dolphins dipping playfully in and out of the waters, before finally returning back to land 25 minutes later. Pete informs us later that even the locals only get to see blue whales twice a year, since they surface to breathe for just nine seconds each time, before diving off for hours on end, emerging later at a completely different spot. This piece of news brings a smile to my face, a truly perfect end that will mark the beginning of many kiwi road trips to come.

Where to eat; Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses Helming the kitchens is Chef Fiona Reed, a former contestant and top 15 finals of Master Chef New Zealand. All food served are made from scratch, using ingredients grown fresh within the lodge grounds. Our picks: goat’s cheese, the whole grilled Kaikoura crayfish that is wider than two hands put together, and Fiona’s in-house recipe for a melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate pudding. Dining options are available for lodge guests only (from US$444).

Add a personal touch to your trip with some time spent with a native Maori, easily done with Maurice Manawatu Te Ra who owns Maori Tours kaikoura. A family business since 11 years back, learn about ‘hongi’ – touching noses with each other in appreciation of the gift of life; enjoy the pepperly kawa kawa tea, a blood-purifying brew which represents the life force of the Maori; and a fascinating trip into Puhi Puhi Valley where Maurice will point out the New Zealand fern, fire-starting trees, and even the grubs in a specific log that tastes like peanuts when eaten raw (from US$102).

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