Wings over Whales, Kaikoura
The good thing about having friends who recently visited a place that you plan on visiting, is that it saves you a lot of time otherwise spent on researching the destination. “Wings over Whales was such a unique experience,” my friend Tricia told me. After reading TripAdvisor reviews that confirmed her experience (trust but verify?), we booked three seats aboard a whale watching flight (Wings over Whales also does scenic flights of the coast near Kaikoura). Kids 3 and under fly free with an adult, as long as they are seated on an adult’s lap.
[Side note: These ‘excursions’ (flights, helicopter tours, etc.) can quickly add up. To help us decide, Alex and I tried to think of the next time we would be able to do these things, in New Zealand, and chose which activities to do. In the end, we felt the excursions we did were well worth the money spent, and we’ll cherish these memories more than any souvenir we could have purchased.]
Like I mentioned in my previous posts, the quaint coastal town of Kaikoura was hit hard by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake from November 2016. When we were there in April, the town was still struggling (it seemed like half the shops downtown were boarded up — some closed permanently while others were in the slow process of rebuilding). In fact the tourism board’s slogan is “Yes, We’re Open.” Unfortunately, a lot of the reason why many tourists visit Kaikoura is for the scenic coastal highway running from Christchurch in the south through Kaikoura and north into wine country (Tricia, who went before the earthquake, said this stretch of road was one of her favorites). Honestly, while Kaikoura is beautiful, and we very much enjoyed our whale watching flight, I’m not sure I’d recommend the detour (especially since, at the time, the roads going north were all closed) to go to Kaikoura if the coastal roads aren’t open.
| Wings over Whales |
We were instructed to arrive a little earlier than our flight time, to check in (and weigh in) and watch a short informational video on safety and whales. Since the planes are small, each person is guaranteed a window seat. We were given life vests and ear muffs (Baby M was given a pair of small ear muffs, which she refused to wear after a few minutes). The ear muffs were more to hear the pilot talking rather than noise protection (the noise wasn’t that loud).
We flew on an 8-seater Gippsland Airvan. It was my first time on a small plane! At first we flew over Kaikoura and the coast (beautiful, crystal clear water) before heading to sea. The pilot started circling around a whale watch boat, and that’s when we spotted our first sperm whale. I’ve been on a few whale watching cruises (the last one in Maine, where halfway through, I was left clutching a bag of Alex’s puke… not fun!!) before but it was neat to see whales from a different perspective (you can see the blow hole from the air!). [You can also do a whale watching boat tour, but that’s usually three hours long, versus a 30 minute flight, and you’re more likely to get seasick! Plus, I think the minimum age for the whale watch boat tour was eight, so we couldn’t have taken Baby M.]
The pilot did some very tight circles around the first whale, before it submerged. We then went a little further and spotted our second whale. The pilot again did some tight maneuvers so that we could see that whale, but, afterwards most of us agreed that that was when we started feeling nauseous… Luckily, we headed back to land before any of us actually got sick!
Other things you can do in Kaikoura include nature trails, visiting the seal colony (you can get really close and see seal pups!), and enjoying good seafood. We visited the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk, a food caravan that sells all kinds of fresh seafood. You purchase whatever you want (we opted for a few scallop platters and a lobster/crayfish), and can either take your food to go, or sit at one of the little tables along the side of the road. (Those of you traveling with young kids, beware! You may want to take your food and eat elsewhere, in case you have a little wanderer trying to walk into the street!)
If State Highway 1 (the scenic coastal road) is open going into and out of Kaikoura, definitely consider making a trip out there. And if you’re into whale watching or scenic flights, definitely consider Wings over Whales. We enjoyed our 30 minute tour. It was one of the highlights of our trip to New Zealand!
To read more about our farm stay experience in New Zealand: Pete’s Farm Stay
To see our New Zealand South Island itinerary: Road Trip around New Zealand’s South Island