Kaikoura, two hours drive north of Christchurch on New Zealand's south island, lies in the sun belt of New Zealand. It averages 2000 hours of sunshine a year and in winter its high mountains are snow-clad.
In 1843 the first shore whaling station was established there by Captain Robert Fyffe. His home, Fyffe House, built in 1860, still stands on its whalebone piles. Other whaling stations followed, but after 1850 whale numbers declined and their exploitation became uneconomic. Sheep and goats were introduced and so began a farming district.
As recently as the 1980s, residents of Kaikoura were carving a meagre living from fishing and farming, but once the world realised that it is one of the only places on the planet whales can be seen in their natural habitat all year round, the place is booming and eco-tourism is alive and well.
It is wonderful to know that a town built on the slaughter of whales is now reaping the benefits of protecting and enjoying their existence.
Several whale species can be seen off Kaikoura at different time of year, but there are almost always sperm whales to be spotted. Males measure up to 15 metres and females up to 11. Adolescent males enjoy the rich diet provided by the Kaikoura waters, building their strength as they move to the warm north mating grounds. Their flukes lift clear at the start of a deep dive which can be from one to three kilometres. They can hold their breath for up to two hours.
Clean, sharp Orca fins are often sighted, and schools of pilot whales visit. Dolphins, seabirds and fur seals, once hunted almost to extinction, love the rich harvest of the area.
A truly wonderful way to enjoy not only the marine life but the superb coastline is hovering above in a Cessna 172 or Gippsland Aeronautics Airvan.
Wings over Whales is located just eight kilometres south of Kaikoura. They provide comfortable flights with experienced pilots who give authoritative commentary.
In a 30-minute flight you will see whales preparing to dive and up to five hundred cavorting dusky dolphins. Sometimes southern rights, humpbacks, fins, sei, brydes, pilots, southern bottlenose and the mighty blue whales appear. Orcas are less frequent visitors, but are certainly out there. Wings over Whales boasts a 95 percent sighting rate.
The flight goes over Kaikoura Peninsula where you see evidence of Maori fortifications (Pa sites), New Zealand fur seals resting on rocks and the Kaikoura township. Conditions permitting, you will marvel at a spectacular flight over the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges which rise to 2800 metres.
After the flight you are invited to relax in the terminal to enjoy a light meal and drink. The lounge overlooks the sea and mountains.