Upper South Island and the West Coast: Places to Explore

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Kaikoura

The town of Kaikoura sits on a rocky protrusion on the east coast, backed by an impressive mountainous upthrust. View it from the expansive lookout up on Scarborough Street. Sperm whales frequent this coast in greater numbers than anywhere else on Earth. The sperm whale, the largest toothed mammal, can reach a length of 60 feet and a weight of 70 tons. The whales concentrate in this area because of the abundance of squid—particularly the giant squid of seafaring lore, which is their main food source. Scientists speculate that the whales use a form of sonar to find the squid, which they then bombard with deep, powerful sound waves generated in the massive cavities in the fronts of their heads. Their hunting is all the more remarkable considering that much of it is done at great depths, in darkness. The whales' food source swims in the trench just off the continental shelf, just kilometers off the Kaikoura Coast. You are most likely to see the whales between October and August, but they are generally there year-round.

Kaikoura's main street straggles along the beach behind a high stony bank, which lends some protection from rough weather. Farther south curves South Bay, the docking point for the whale-watching operators. Kaikoura has undergone a transformation over the past decade as its whale-watching has brought thousands of people to its doorstep.

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