Rising two kilometres from the freezing depths of the Kaikoura canyon, giant sperm whale expels pungent spume of oily mist three metres into the dawn sky above the Whale Watch vessel. Submerged for two hours or more while preying on giant squid, the Earth’s largest carnivore now sucks in air and drifts nearer the boat, its glossy black head scarred white by the flailing tentacles and rasping beak of its quarry.
Then slowly that enormous head goes down, the great tail flukes lift and then disappear leaving nothing but an agitated patch of sea and the faint and fishy smell of whale breath.
It is powerful and elemental display; manifestation of pure natural energy.
“Experiencing the shared emotion expressed on the faces of our manuhiri (visitors) at their first encounter with giant Sperm Whale reinforces the depth of the emotional connection and fascination that humanity has with these amazing creatures,” Kauahi Ngapora, COO Whale Watch Kaikoura.
PAIKEA THE WHALE RIDER
According to legend, Paikea came to New Zealand from the Pacific Islands on the back of whale many centuries ago. His descendants include the Kati Kuri people of Kaikoura.
Paikea was the youngest and favourite son of the chief Uenuku from the island of Mangaia in the present day Cook Islands. This favouritism made Paikea’s elder brothers extremely jealous. They conspired to kill Paikea while fishing offshore and tell Uenuku he drowned. But the night before the trip Paikea feigned sleep and overheard his brothers plotting. When far out to sea Paikea foiled their plan by deliberately sinking the canoe and drowning his brothers.
Now adrift in great ocean, Paikea clung to canoe plank and awaited his own death. It was then that Tohora the whale appeared and lifted Paikea onto his great back. Tohora took Paikea south to New Zealand and the settlement of Whangara just north of present day Gisborne. Here, Paikea began new and prosperous life.
Many years later one of Paikea’s sons, Tahupotiki, travelled further south and became the founder of the great South Island tribe of Ngai Tahu. It is from Tahupotiki and Paikea that the Ngai Tahu and Kati Kuri of Kaikoura claim descent.
GIANT SPERM WHALES
Kaikoura’s resident sperm whales are the biggest of the toothed whales and the world’s largest carnivore. They are equivalent in size to four elephants. Each of their teeth can weigh more than kilogram and grow to 20cm long. Sperm whales dive two kilometres into the dark abyss of the Kaikoura canyon to hunt prey such as the giant squid. Many of Kaikoura’s sperm whales wear battle scars from close encounters with this monster of the deep.
“Our journey from humble beginnings has had its fair share of challenges and many are still to be faced. At the core of the company’s success is its people which is captured best in the age-old saying He Tangata, He Tangata He Tangata – The People, The People, The People.”
Kauahi Ngapora, COO, Whale Watch Kaikoura
Whale Watch is committed to providing quality whale watching experience while carefully managing the use of rare natural resource. As Maori-owned company, Whale Watch cherishes the twin values of hospitality to visitors and reverence for the natural world. It is philosophy that embraces people, the land, the sea and all living things as one.
WHALE WATCH® – THE COMPANY
Whale Watch is multiple award winning nature tourism company owned and operated by the indigenous Kati Kuri people of Kaikoura, Maori sub-tribe of the South Island’s larger Ngai Tahu Tribe.
Whale Watch was formed in 1987 at time when Maori were casualties of Kaikoura’s declining economy. At this time of difficulty, Kati Kuri leaders like Bill Solomon believed the local sperm whales held the answer to the unemployment problems of the Maori community. They knew their ancestor Paikea had journeyed to new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohora. It seemed appropriate for Paikea’s descendants to again ride on the back of the whale to new life.
And so it proved to be.
The Kati Kuri founders of Whale Watch mortgaged their houses to secure loan to start the business. In the early days passengers travelled aboard small inflatable vessel. In time, the inflatable was replaced by larger boat with an upper viewing deck – the Uruao – until today the Whale Watch fleet numbers four modern catamarans each specially designed for whale watching. The expansion of the Whale Watch fleet required the building of an entire marina in South Bay. It is from here that all whale watching tours now depart.
Due to the phenomenal success of Whale Watch, Kaikoura is now one of New Zealand’s leading tourism experiences offering diverse range of exciting marine wildlife encounters. The company has stimulated investment in new accommodation, restaurants and an impressive array of cafes and galleries filled with the work of local artists.
Paikea and Tohora still form the symbolic centre of Whale Watch. They represent the spiritual bond between the human world and the natural world and speak of the possibilities that reveal themselves when the world of nature is revered rather than exploited.