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.

Even though we’re still in the last month of Winter, it’s starting to feel more and more like Spring! It was a cracker weekend here in Kaikōura with amazing sea conditions and picture perfect days to go along with it.

This week we saw semi-residential whales Tiaki, Matimati, Tutu and Aoraki as well as some visiting Sperm Whales to our region. It’s so encouraging to see these whales returning to our region time and time again as they are always our favourites to see out on the water.

Four Humpback Whales were seen on our tours this week. September marks the end of their annual migration, so it’s not too long until we stop seeing the most acrobatic whales on the planet on our tours completely until next year’s journey takes them back through Kaikōura waters again.

Wednesday’s tour got to see a pod of 300 Dusky Dolphins playing with a Giant Warty Squid, also known as the Longarm Octopus Squid. These squid grow up to two meters in length and are a staple part of the Sperm Whale’s diet. A truly spectacular sight to see!

We currently have an end of winter sale on at our Retail Store at the moment, a whopping 25% off all hoodies, jackets and merino items! We need to make room for new summer stock, so head over to our online store to get your hands on some winter goodies.

REGULAR, SCHEDULED CLOSURES OF STATE HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH OF KAIKOURA

There is a possibility of short delays and it will be 30km/hour through parts of the route. Inland Route 70 remains open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

As we enter into the cooler winter months it is a good reminder to take extra care on the roads and to check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling.

Progress is continuing to be made on the repair of the Kaikōura Marina, with the modified trailer and public jetty now being used for launching our vessel Tohora. This is due to tidal restrictions and repair work as a result of the coastline lifting by +1.0m. All our berths have now been removed. This is an end of an era but we are excited to see our new and improved marina once it is completed! The use of the modified trailer and public jetty will continue until further notice. It is anticipated that the Kaikōura Marina will be fully restored in October 2017. Below is a graphic (indicative only) of what is being restored at the marina.

Currently our available tour times are based around the tide times on the day and may differ from the tour times originally advertised, please bear with us as we continue to work toward being fully operational again. For an update on the tour times available, please contact our Customer Service team directly either by email on res@whalewatch.co.nz, phone +64 3 319 6767 or free phone 0800 655 121 (within NZ) and they will be able to help you with your inquiry.  Please note we are operating at a reduced capacity in the interim with up to 3 tours available per day. Please contact our team prior to arriving in Kaikōura to secure a space on one of our tours and to save disappointment.

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

IntercityHasslefree Tours & Canterbury Leisure Tours 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.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.