Whaling History

Painted in its original pink, Fyffe House is all that remains of the Kaikōura whaling industry. The town's oldest surviving building, it has changed little since the 1860s.

Built literally upon foundations of whale vertebrae, Fyffe House provides a rare opportunity for visitors to feel the small-roomed confines of a whaler's cottage, touch whale bones and baleen and even smell the fragrant aroma of whale oil.

Fyffee House. Kaikōura whaling history.

Fyffe House, Kaikōura

European settlement of Kaikōura began in 1842 when Scotsman Robert Fyfe established a whaling station. His cousin George Fyffe (they spelt their surnames differently) joined Robert later. The cousins employed many local Māori men in their whaling crews along with whalers from Australia, Great Britain, North America, France, Germany, Hawaii and India. Many of these foreign whalers married local Ngāi Tahu women and their descendants live in Kaikōura today.

Harpooned whales, mostly Southern Right Whales, were dragged to a large rock shelf in the bay near Fyffe House and their flesh removed and boiled down for oil. Southern Right Whales were already rare in the 1840s and their numbers soon collapsed. At this time George Fyffe and many of the whalers turned to sheep and dairy farming to make a living. Farming soon became the mainstay of the local economy until whale watching began in 1987 and shifted the emphasis back to whales.

Humpback and Sperm whales sustained a small whaling industry in Kaikōura until the early 20th century. Whales were still being hunted in other South Island locations until commercial whaling ended in New Zealand in 1964.

Whale bone arches at the Memorial Gardens in Kaikōura.

Whale bone arches at the Memorial Gardens in Kaikōura


Whale bone arches at the Memorial Gardens in Kaikōura

Robert Fyffe began shore-whaling at the Kaikōura Whaling Station in the year 1841, but at that time the ownership had not been settled until he entered into a partnership agreement with businessman John Murray and others in 1842.

They were offered the use of the Coalheaver Station on Mana Island, Nr. Wellington, but refused the offer, as they were aware that the whaling results were poor in that area.

Fyffe was left to run the whaling station and gradually Murray dropped out of the whaling scene to run his sheep station. Murray was unfortunately drowned in 1845 and his brother took over running both the sheep station and the whaling business. Fyffe later became the sole owner of the Kaikōura Whaling Station and purchased the South Bay station in late 1845. He reported a good catch for the next two seasons, selling his whale oil and bone to the Wellington firm of Waiitt & Tyser in 1845-46, who shipped it on to England.

The Fyffe Whaling Station at Kaikōura continued operations for many years; the demand for whale oil on the world markets weakened slightly as the supply of gas and electricity became readily available for the average homeowner and the whale lamps were stored away in cupboards for the odd emergency. Sealskin hats and collars had long gone out of fashion so this trade also declined rapidly.

A group attending a tour at Fyffe House to learn about Kaikōura whaling history.

A tour of Fyffe House really brings home just how raw and harsh life was back in the whaling days.

We had some stunning weather over the weekend along with some great sightings on our tours. Not only were we able to see sperm whales but also the rare opportunity of seeing a pod of beaked whales pass by the Kaikōura coastline. Not a common sight at all and one that is very treasured by all when we do.

Over the weekend we also had a visit from a couple of the crew from Emirates Team New Zealand with the America’s Cup. It was great to have the opportunity to see the cup up close. Check out this video to see how the afternoon went.

The Huttons Shearwater (Tītī) are special to us in Kaikōura. Their habitat sustained considerable loss during the Nov 2016 earthquake. Please take the time to vote for them as Bird of the Year and this status will help secure the much needed funding for more research so we can plan for their future.

REGULAR, SCHEDULED CLOSURES OF STATE HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH OF KAIKOURA

The highway will be open during daylight hours on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (perfect for a long weekend getaway) from 7AM to 7PM.

The highway will be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for repairs to take place. 

The closure schedule is expected to remain in place until December 2017.

There is a possibility of short delays and it will be 30km/hour through parts of the route. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. Inland Route 70 remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Please be aware that this week is a full closure week - Monday 16 to Friday 20 October. The road will reopen to the public midday on Friday 20 October for Labour weekend travellers. Another full week closure is scheduled for Monday 6 to Friday 10 November. 

Something worth celebrating...

Restoration work on the Kaikoura marina begun 10 months ago, and over the weekend we celebrated being able to now use berth 3 & 4. We have been using our trailer unit & the public jetty for some time now so to be able to pull up into our berths is quite an exciting feat. We still have a wee way to go but this is a HUGE step closer to being fully operational. We are very thankful for the amazing work the harbour repair crew are doing in what are at times trying conditions. We are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! We cannot thank the tireless effort that the workers have put in to get us to this stage especially in what has been trying conditions at times.

More great news…

We thank you all for your patience over the last 11 months with the changing tour times with having work in line with the tides but with being able to now use berth 3 & 4 it means that we are now back running on our original fixed tour timetable. 0715, 1000, 1245 & 1530 (Nov-Mar)

KAIKOURA BUSINESS UPDATE

Kaikōura is open for business. For latest updates on accommodation, restaurant and retail information please contact the team at the Kaikōura I-Site who will be able to help you find what suits your needs during your stay in Kaikōura. 

TRANSPORT UPDATE

Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch, as well as Kiwi Experience now having the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers.

Progress on the work being done on roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on this dedicated KAIKOURA EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE page provided by the team at NZTA. This page is updated weekly on Friday. Work is also starting to take place on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

11 months on and we are starting to see some real progress – the teams out on the road, rail and the marina are all doing such an amazing job for which we are so thankful. And, we cannot thank you all enough for your continual support.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura