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Whale Watching Tips

Your first whale watching experience will be an exhilarating one and you want to be prepared for the moment when you see that magnificent creature at sea. The tours usually…

Your first whale watching experience will be an exhilarating one and you want to be prepared for the moment when you see that magnificent creature at sea. The tours usually span from one and a half hours to three hours. But whale sightings only lasts between five to ten minutes once the whale is spotted. Having been on four whale watching trips in New Zealand and Australia, I’ve gathered some tips on how to feel my best while at sea and some additional tips on capturing the best moments on camera so that I can relive that moment again and again.

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  • Anticipate sea sickness. Pop a sea sick pill at least 30 minutes before you head out. This will prevent a lot of mess. Be sure to check if the pill is drowsy or non-drowsy as you don’t want to be nodding off when the whale shows up.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Very often people will go on their first whale watch trip fearing they might throw up and avoid eating breakfast prior to the trip. Skipping breakfast only results in acid and gas build up which could potentially make you even queasier. I usually take a very light breakfast like a toasts or cereal and avoid any fatty or fried food. Bring along some healthy snacks like nuts or pretzels for munching to stop your stomach acids from building up.
  • Stay hydrated. Bring along a bottle of water with you, especially if you decide to hang out on the open deck to spot dolphins and enjoy the morning sun.
  • Keep warm. It is usually cooler out at sea and even chillier with the ocean breeze. Bring a light jacket with you.
  • Sunblocks and sunnies. Yes, the sun is harsh so don’t skimp on lathering yourself with sun-protection.

While at sea, you want to remember these tips to avoid from feeling queasy:

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  • Stay outside in the open because fresh air helps a lot.
  • Go to the lowest deck and stay towards the rear of the vessel. The closer you are to the water, the less motion is felt.
  • Suck on a sweet or mint – somehow it helps.
  • Keep your eyes on the horizon. Looking at something that is not moving helps the equilibrium.
  • Lookout for dolphins, seals seabirds, flying fishes, albatrosses, whatever you can spot. Keep your mind occupied and off your queasy stomach.

Getting the perfect whale shot!

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  • Rule #1 is, always have your camera ready. Make sure your batteries are charged and your equipment ready.
  • Next, you will need to understand basic whale behaviour. I don’t claim to be a specialist in this, but from my experiences and tips from different skippers, here are some pointers.
  • Keep a lookout and be on a scanning mode. Never fix your eyes on one place. When scanning the water’s surface, lookout for spouts of water coming off the surface.
  • Once you have that initial sighting, keep looking in that direction. You should be able to see a mass above the water’s surface. Depending on how long the whale has surfaced, the sperm whale may do a few things; spout (blow water), breach (belly up) or dive (tail up and back into the deep).
  • Enjoy the moment while the whale is calm and snap away, but don’t take your eyes off the whale as the whale has to dive back into the sea. If you are fortunate, the whale may do a breach, but this is quite rare.
  • Get your camera ready for the dive. Be focused, centered and ready to snap your shot. The tail of the whale is what you want to capture. When the tail is completely out of the water and its underside visible, you will notice patterns on the tail called the fluke print. This is unique to each whale, as fingerprints are to humans.
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Whale Watching Done Right

Kaikoura is recognised as one of the best destinations in the world to whale watch. In fact, there is 95% chance of sighting whales because of the resident sperm whales…

Kaikoura is recognised as one of the best destinations in the world to whale watch. In fact, there is 95% chance of sighting whales because of the resident sperm whales who linger around the ocean canyons all year round. Kaikoura was a small quiet fishing village back in the 1980’s. The only strip of shops on the main road facing the ocean was the only commercial shoplots in town. It was a town where everyone knew everyone.

Then in 1987, Bill Solomon, a fellow Maori who lived off the ocean decided that the seas would bring new and greater wealth to the small town. Fueled with faith from a story of an ancient Maori legend named Paikea who rode on a back of the whale to a better life, Bill Solomon and his friends mortgaged their homes to start up a new business. They brought travellers out on inflatable boats and showcased the magnanimous ocean creatures that owned the seas.

Today, Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of the world’s leading and award winning whale watching tour companies in the world. The company’s philosophy is deeply entrenched in the Maori culture of respect for the environment and wildlife lending to the success of the company and the way they introduce nature to travellers. This was my second time whale watching in Kaikoura and I knew what to expect – a spectacular two hour ocean ride!

We set of in a large vessel bright and early in the morning. The waters were calm with gentle ripples of waves lapping in the horizon. The engines started, we buckled in and soon the vessel was galloping into the deep blue seas. I had taken a very light breakfast before the trip and had taken a sea-sick pill 30-minutes before we set off, still I wanted to be extra prepared in case my stomach churned and the uncalled for throw up landed on neighbour’s lap. Just to be on the safe side, I held onto the white barf bag throughout the trip.

In order to prevent hoards of people from rushing out to the open deck upon a whale sighting, the skipper reiterated the rules again. Anticipation mounted in the cabin as the vessel came to a gentle halt. We had only travelled 20-minutes into sea and behold, the resident whale Tutu greeted us that morning. Her massive body under the water’s surface with only about 10% of her body mass visible, still the sight was truly amazing. Tutu spouted several times and lingered around for 10 minutes before diving back in. The most opportune time for photo taking is when Tutu dove in and flipped her tail before disappearing into the deep blue. Cameras clicked away and for that split second, all onboard were hushed in awe of the grand sight.

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Then all that’s left is the blanket of sea. Everyone cheered and dispersed to other parts of the vessel to enjoy the warm morning sun. We were told that the Kaikoura ocean canyons go as deep as 1000-1500 metres deep, a world unknown to many, where the illusive giant colossal squid reside. The great white albatross glided by, its wing span unlike any other sea bird. Schools of playful dusky dolphins danced and swam next to the vessel teasing us as we captured those moments on camera.

A good hour and a half had passed and we headed back to shore. There was no doubt I’d go back to sea the next time I’m in Kaikoura. The experience, once again left a lasting impression of the vastness and grandeur of the great ocean. It is responsible tour companies like Whale Watch Kaikoura that make it possible for thousands of travellers to experience these beautiful creatures & share the same respect for wildlife in her habitat.

Enjoy a snippet of my experience meeting and greeting Tutu… and if you’re planning a whale watching trip anytime in the future, you will definitely want to check out some useful tips on getting the most of your experience.

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Homestay In Kaikoura Run By A 75-Year Old

It’s a daunting thought for most of us to wake up every morning at 5:30am to cook breakfast for guests, but for Margaret Woodhill, it’s a joy and something she…

It’s a daunting thought for most of us to wake up every morning at 5:30am to cook breakfast for guests, but for Margaret Woodhill, it’s a joy and something she looks forward to.

Her modest home is perched atop a hill with sweeping views of Kaikoura’s rolling mountains that meets the grand sea. Kaikoura is a small town north of Christchurch made famous by its whale watching activity. Annually, the town welcomes enthusiastic wildlife lovers from all over the world. Before the big whale watching boom about 28 years back, Margaret together with her late husband, Bob first opened their home to travelers. At that time, their four children had all grown up and moved out leaving an empty nest. So, the most logical decision was to find a way to fill up empty rooms and that was how Bayview Homestay came about.

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Margaret recounts the first official advert that was published about Bayview Homestay. It was printed in the New Zealand Bed & Breakfast book together with 25 other operators. They welcomed their first six guests and since then, there have been thousands from around the world. Margaret has a poster of the world map stuck on the pantry wall and guests are encouraged to stick a pin on the country of their origin. The map is polka-dotted with many pins, too many to count.

Staying at Bayview felt like putting up a night at grandma’s, especially since I was traveled with my husband and baby son. Margaret treats everyone like family and her warm and infectious smile is the very thing that made me feel at home. The guests’ rooms are situated in a separate section of the family home with a small pantry, living space and a separate entry and exit. But despite the wall that separates us, Margaret never made us feel that we had to stay in the guest area. She welcomed us to roam freely and to join in conversations over a cup of tea at the breakfast table.

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Breakfast was a grand feast at Bayview. Margaret took painstaking effort to provide us with homemade food. Breakfast at Margaret’s is as good as having brunch and she takes pride in what she serves her guests. For two consecutive mornings, we had bacon, perfectly poached eggs fresh from Margaret’s chicken coup and homemade toasts. Atop that, we had a selection of other goodies to choose from; cereal, fresh rhubard and peach jams and yoghurt.

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There is a great sense of respect for the environment at Bayview. Margaret shared with me her passion of tending to her garden, the hours invested in caring for the land and some tips on creating good compost. In her one-acre garden she grows tomatoes, lettuce and other greens. She has a neat chicken coup only for eggs and a beautiful garden of blooming flowers. Despite the garden looking immaculate, Margaret remarks, “I wish I had more time to spend in the garden. If I have a spare minute in the day, you will see me in the garden.”

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Her green thumbs were cultivated over time and she credits her father for sharing tips on keeping the plants healthy. “You need good compost,” she said. “The trick to good compost is seaweed. Layers of grass, animal manure, grass, seaweed…” I listened intently as Margaret freely shared her garden secrets.

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Although Bayview Homestay is opened to guests, the home remains a family sanctuary. Margaret hosts her children and grandchildren when they come to visit from afar. The home is also a meeting place for special occasions such as Christmas. Having spent three days at Bayview, there is undoubtedly a family atmosphere in the place. I asked Margaret what is the best thing about living in Kaikoura. She beamed and told me two reasons, “This home. I’ve lived here so long there are so many memories here. The scenery – looking out the window at the breakfast table, I am reminded how fortunate I am to be living here. Especially when the guests’ go “Wow!” at the view.

Margaret had recently published a book about her life called “Life of Mar”. It is a beautiful recount of her life from childhood up until the birth of her first great grandchild. Precious personal memories and descriptions about Kaikoura were documented. Margaret wrote it as a personal memoir for her family to remember.

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She had lived in her Kaikoura since 1934 and back in the day, there were only 5 houses on the hill – now there are 66 houses. It gave me a sense that development has crept into this small little town, now made famous by the big ocean mammals. But even with the boom, Kaikoura has not lost its charm. The people are still as friendly and communities tightly knitted. Possibly, it is this community-type hospitality that keep tourists coming.

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