Canyon & Sub-tropical Environment

The waters off the Kaikōura Coast provide a unique habitat for sea-life. Comparisons have been made between the waters of the Kaikōura Coast and the Africa’s Serengeti Plain, such is the abundance of life found in the waters off the coast. But how is it that this part of New Zealand’s South Island coastline was such a great concentration of oceanic life?

Kaikōura coast at sunset.

The big deep

The Kaikōura Canyon is a submarine canyon located around 800 metres off the Kaikōura Coast.  It stretches for over 60 kilometres and reaches depths of up to 1200+ metres.  The canyon is part of the Kermadec Trench system which extends far out into the Pacific Ocean.  The trench has been formed as one of the Earth’s tectonic plates, the Hikurangi Plateau, slides beneath the Indo-Australian Plate.

A cold-water supermarket

As cold water moves along the base of the trench towards the coast, it begins to rise, bringing with it nutrients from the deep ocean.  The nutrients encourage a food chain which begins with tiny plankton and goes all the way up to the whales and dolphins you can see from your Whale Watch boat.  Deep water fish also follow the cold water currents, making Kaikōura such a spectacular place to go fishing.

On the waterline

Encouraged by the oceanic bounty of the trench, many species of mammal, birds and crustaceans flourish along the shallower fringes of the coast.  The fat New Zealand fur seals you can see basking on the rocks find all the food they need in amongst the kelpy reefs and deep fissures of the seabed.  And, of course, the creature which gave the region its name, the crayfish (kai = food; kōura =crayfish) flourish in the nutrient-rich waters.  The cliffs and crags of the coast and the Kaikōura Peninsula offer roosting-places for the myriad species of sea-birds which harvest the waters off the Kaikōura Coast; ocean-going seabirds congregate off-shore where schools of fish provide easy pickings

The skyline

Rearing almost straight out of the ocean, the Seaward Kaikōura Range and the Inland Kaikōura Range have been formed by the same immense pressures which have formed the Kaikōura Canyon.  As the Hikurangi Plateau pushes under the Indo-Australian Plate, it rumples the edge of the plate up just like a carpet being pushed up against a wall.  The resulting mountain ranges are spectacularly rugged and unstable, as the forces of erosion seek to tear them down as fast as the tectonic forces push them up.  The steep creeks and rivers which flow down from the ranges carry nutrients and minerals which further enrich the waters of the great oceanic supermarket off the Kaikōura Coast.

You can experience the breath taking scale of the Kaikōura Canyon while viewing our unique animation sequences aboard any Whale Watch tour.

An interpretation of the Kaikōura Canyon, New Zealand.

Animation interpretation of how the Kaikōura Canyon would look if the water was drained away

This week Kaikōura really lived up to its reputation of being a marine mecca, with a wide variety of marine mammals sighted in abundance on our tours! We saw a lot of large transient Sperm Whales visiting our Coast to indulge in the nutrient rich waters of the Hikurangi Trench, as well as Spotty Tail! A semi-residential Sperm Whale who we’ve been seeing for a while now.

We’ve also seen a great number of Pilot Whales over the week, on Tuesday we saw 50+ and then on Thursday we saw 150+! A couple of stray Humpback Whales have also been hanging around Kaikōura, which we don’t usually get to see in November, but we’re guessing they’re just enjoying the Kaikōura Canyon too much to leave!

Dolphin varieties we saw on our tours included the usual suspects, the acrobatic Duskies and endangered Hectors, and this week we saw a pod of 20+ Bottlenose. As well as seeing the smallest of the dolphin species, the Hector, we also spotted the largest – the Orca. That makes two weeks in a row of Orca sighting!

On Tuesday, the 14th of November which marked exactly 1 year on from when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck which raised our coastline and left our boats on dry land, we celebrated our official marina opening. Thank you to everyone’s support and well wishes over the past year, each word of encouragement has been truly appreciated.

ROAD ACCESS UPDATE

There is a possibility of short delays with it being 30km/hour through parts of the route. Check the NZTA website for road updates before traveling. INLAND ROUTE 70 IS OPEN 24/7.

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. 

ORGANISED TRANSPORT OPTIONS FROM CHRISTCHURCH

Hasslefree ToursCanterbury Leisure Tours & Kaikoura Express have daily services from Christchurch to Kaikōura with a return service from Christchurch. Kiwi Experience now have the option of a day tour out of Christchurch for their travellers. Intercity Bus also provides a bus service between Christchurch and Kaikoura return.

Progress on the work being done on the roads (along with harbour repairs) can be found on the dedicated Kaikoura Earthquake Response page provided by the team at NZTA. This page is updated weekly on Fridays. Work is also underway on the railway network, please be aware and take care when using rail crossings.

The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura.