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Marine Experiences in Kaikoura

Whales and other marine mammals are the primary draw of Kaikoura, but be aware that you'll be fighting for a place with hundreds of others and that it's all weather dependent. Whale Watch Kaikoura (tel. 0800/655-121 in NZ, or 03/319-6767; www.whalewatch.co.nz) gives you a close encounter with the giant sperm whale. Book well ahead for this awesome adventure. It offers four 2 1/2-hour tours daily on two types of vessels. The fare is NZ$145 for adults, NZ$60 for children ages 3 to 15 (not suitable for kids 2 and under). You may also spot dolphins, fur seals, and seabirds. If you're prone to seasickness, make sure you take the appropriate medication because even the sight and smell of others being sick around you is enough to upset the sternest gut. This is a slick, well-managed operation, the films and videos first-rate, but I found there was something slightly manic about it all and you spend most of the trip waiting to see a whale's tail from about 30m (100 ft.) away.

Wings Over Whales (tel. 0800/226-629 in NZ, or 03/319-6580; www.whales.co.nz) offers an airborne perspective to whale-watching via a 30-minute flight (NZ$165 per person). If you're short on time, this is probably the best alternative.

Encounter Kaikoura (tel. 0800/733-365 in NZ, or 03/319-6777; www.encounterkaikoura.co.nz) has tours for watching and/or swimming with dusky dolphins, the most playful and acrobatic of all the dolphins. The cost is NZ$165 for adults, NZ$150 for children 14 and under. Reserve well in advance. I'd also recommend their Albatross Encounter, which gets you up close and personal with the area's astounding seabird population. Make sure you take your camera for this one. It costs NZ$110 for adults and NZ$55 for children ages 8 to 14. Seal Swim Kaikoura (tel. 0800/732-579 in NZ, or 03/319-6182; www.sealswimkaikoura.co.nz) operates October through May and has seal swims priced from NZ$70 to NZ$90.

Kaikoura Kayaks (tel. 0800/452-456 in NZ, or 03/319-7118; www.kaikourakayaks.co.nz) provides one of the loveliest ways of getting a feel for the richness of Kaikoura's marine environment. You'll have fur seals diving around your kayak and seabirds diving down from above. This is what I'd be doing if I only had a day in Kaikoura. Half-day trips cost NZ$85 for adults, NZ$75 for kids 12 and under.

Walking the Walk

The Kaikoura Coast Track, Medina, 210 Conway Flat Rd., Cheviot (tel. 03/319-2715; www.kaikouratrack.co.nz), begins almost an hour south of Kaikoura and takes you across a historic sheep station, up into tussock land, down into bush valleys, and along a beach beneath cliffs embedded with 8,000-year-old tree stumps and fossils. It's 3 days in country otherwise inaccessible to you, and for NZ$185 per person it's money very well spent. You sleep in farm cottages along the way and home-cooked meals can be provided.

Kaikoura Wilderness Walk (tel. 0800/945-337 in NZ, or 03/319-6966; www.kaikourawilderness.co.nz) is a comfortable 2-day hiking experience over 17km (11 miles) in the Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve, a remote area that is home to rare wildlife. You'll overnight at Shearwater Lodge, which was built in 2004 on a precipitous location that has to be seen to be believed. The 2- to 3-day guided walk, all meals, and accommodations cost from NZ$795 to NZ$995 per person. Only available from October through April, this is a more mountainous, wilderness experience than the more farm-based Kaikoura Track. Both are well worth doing.

A Cultural Exchange

Maurice and Heather Manawatu of Maori Tours Kaikoura (tel. 0800/866-267 in NZ, or 03/319-5567; www.maoritours.co.nz) will send you away with some of your loveliest New Zealand memories. They'll take you on a journey through Kaikoura's rich Maori history to ancient Maori sites, and you'll explore a beautiful stand of native bush, learning about the traditional uses of plants by Maori. Wear sensible walking shoes and take along a sense of humor and a willingness to participate. The 3- to 4-hour tour costs NZ$115 for adults and NZ$65 for children ages 5 to 15.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.