Kaikōura 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?
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
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.