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Whale Watch Kaikoura. Sperm whales browse closer to shore at Kaikoura than anywhere else in the world. Humpbacks, pilot whales, and orca pass by on annual migrations. See these marine giants as they dive and breech with comparitive ease on specialist whale-watching cruises operated by Kaikoura's own tribal company. Whale Watch is owned by Ngai Tahu, the predominant South Island iwi (tribe). Having cruised these waters since 1987, Whale Watch skippers can recognize individual whales and adjust operations, such as the boat's proximity to the whale, accordingly. Allow 3½ hours for the whole experience, 2¼ hours on the water (you need to check in at the Whaleway Station at the end of Whaleway Road and you will be transported to your boat). Various dolphins and seals and other species of whales may also be seen on any day. Be sure to book in advance: 7 to 10 days during the peak season, November–April, three to four days at other times. The whale-watching boats are sturdy catamarans and fully enclosed for sea travel, but once the whales are spotted you can go out on the deck for a closer view. Trips depend on the weather, and should your tour miss seeing a whale, which is rare, you will get an 80% refund. No children under three. Take motion-sickness pills if you suspect you'll need them: even in calm weather the sea around Kaikoura often has a sizable swell. Trips are subject to cancellation if the weather is bad. Whaleway Station Rd., Kaikoura, 7300. 03/319–6767 or 0800/655–121. www.whalewatch.co.nz. NZ$145.
Wings over Whales. To get above the action, take a half-hour whale-viewing flight. From a small, fixed-wing aircraft you get a bird's-eye view of the giant sperm whales, and others that pass by. The planes will drop to 150 meters to view the whales while the pilots give an informative commentary. A stunningly scenic flight over the famous Kaikoura coastline is a bonus, and of course you won't get seasick. Wings over Whales claims a 95% success rate in spotting whales, and the planes can often fly when it's too rough for the boats to go out. Shuttle transport is available from the township to the airfield (NZ$10). Kaikoura Airfield, State Hwy. 1, Kaikoura, 7374. 03/319–6580 or 0800/226–629. www.whales.co.nz. NZ$165.