Say Kia Ora to Kaikoura!
Every part of New Zealand has a story to tell, the uniqueness of the land and our values makes us special as a country. One story that has been heard loud and clear across the world is from the magical town of Kaikoura.
Kaikoura is caught between the seaward Kaikoura ranges and the Pacific Ocean, a thriving destination in summer. The town is, internationally known for its resident sperm whales, dusky dolphins and albatross encounters.
The Kaikoura earthquake shook New Zealand
On November 14th 2016, the earthquake hit, rattling Culverdon through to Seddon. Kaikoura was, unfortunately, one of the places hit the worst. The impact on nature, the town, and the people was more than what anyone could have imagined. SH1 was closed, the railway line destroyed, commercial crayfishing stopped and the Coastal Pacific train and freight services were cancelled. Businesses that rely on tourism were forced to shut down. Kaikōura’s connection with the outside world was destroyed.
Despite the events that mother nature served, the community and local businesses showed incredible bravery, resilience and kiwi ingenuity to stay in business and greet you from the Coastal Pacific journey today. Thanks to the commitment, determination and engineering experience of KiwiRail and the NCTIR (North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery Alliance) the glorious destination that was once hard to reach will be more accessible than ever with the return of the seasonal Coastal Pacific train.
Stories of a town
Kaikoura is loved by many, but none more than the locals who through thick and thin call this home. The people behind the local businesses have been through a rollercoaster 2 years and look forward to showing you their home and why it means so much to them that you are coming to visit.
Whale Watch Kaikoura
Whale Watch has called Kaikoura home for the last 31 years. Formed in 1987, it has grown to be one of one of New Zealand's leading eco-tourism destinations, showing the world the bond between humans and nature. Lisa Bond – Manager Marketing of Whale Watch tells us why she loves it here.
"A view you never tire of seeing is the snowcapped mountains while out at sea, it is a sight to behold. Kaikoura is a fantastic place to call home with so much to see and do both on land and out at sea.”
As a business that relies heavily on the ocean, the earthquake significantly disrupted operations, with the rising seabed leaving their Whale Watch vessels high and dry. They weren’t the only ones affected, the entire Kaikoura Marina was destroyed. Commercial and recreational fisherman, local coastguard and other tour providers were driven to closure. For days, they had no idea if the resident sperm whales of Kaikoura were okay, and the extent of the damage to the marine environment. “November 20th was the first time we were able to get one of our vessels out to sea for a look at how the marine life was doing. Words cannot describe the joy felt when we placed our hydrophone in the water and heard the familiar sound of a Sperm whale echolocating.”
With a glimmer of hope and lots of hard work, the Whale Watch staff volunteered in the community, cleaning up, food distribution and much more. The whole town was rallying together supporting each other; stories of Lobster Breakfasts quickly hit the news. In addition to lending a helping hand, the crew were working on getting their tours back up and running and battling with the challenge of launching vessels without a Marina. “It took us 49 days before we were able to begin commercial whale watching again. That first day being back out at sea was emotional for all, passengers and crew alike. It made all the hard work up to that day so worth it. January 3rd 2017 was the day we took out our first commercial tour post-earthquake.”
A year on from the earthquake, on the 14th of November, the marina was built. The work was estimated to take in 15 months but was finished in 9! “Now that we have a facility that is better than what it was before, we can look forward with a huge sense of optimism and can once again do what we do best without restriction which is to Whale watch”
Whale Watch Kaikoura can’t wait for the familiar the rumble of the Coastal Pacific rolling into the Whaleway station. So, when you turn up don’t be a stranger, they will welcome you with that warm kiwi hospitality we all know and love.
For Matt and Kim Foy and the team at Kaikoura Kayaks, the ocean and shoreline is not only their playground but their business. Established in 1998, Matt and his family love Kaikoura “The abundance of marine life, the stunning Peninsula and where the mountains meet the sea. We enjoy our small community, the busyness in the summer and the quieter time over winter.”
After the quake, the Kaikōura Peninsula was thrust up about two metres and boats were left sitting on dry ground. Just north of Kaikōura, the seabed rose a phenomenal 6 meters! Matt and Kim tell us what this meant for their business.
“All of a sudden we were isolated with both State Highways completely closed with major slips which included the railway lines. Basically, there was no initial access in or out of Kaikoura. We lost 90% of our bookings from November and beyond into the following year. The income stopped and cancellations were devastating!”
Kaikoura Kayaks quickly went into survival mode and realised they needed to get the message out that Kaikoura would be up and running quickly, to ensure the wider community and visitors that Kaikoura was O.K and that the community was tough and would bounce back. “We began this process by firstly accessing our paddle routes and the new coastline that the quake had created which was a shift in the sea floor and a 1.5 – 2-metre rise. Thankfully the marine life was still there, we were ready and able to operate (we just needed the people). We created video’s, used social media and contacted reporters to get the word out!”
Kaikoura Kayaks was the first operator back on the water taking to two German tourists paddling 4 days after the 7.8 earthquake. One of Matts guides, Conner Stapley, even found a new phenomenon; Hope Springs named after his young daughter and because the Hope Fault was one of the faults that ruptured in the quake. Now Kaikoura Kayaks take guided tours pointing out the changes to the coastline and environment while paddling around the beautiful peninsula.
Kaikoura is still one of the most magical places in the world so make sure you pay Kaikoura Kayaks a visit to experience the beauty up close and personal. Matt, Kim and their team look forward to welcoming you to Kaikoura from the Coastal Pacific. For them, it is another sign of progress for the town returning to normal. You might even meet them on the train with their excited 6-year-old daughter!
Laura and Paul, owners of The Emporium, relocated from Christchurch to Kaikoura in August 2016, despite moving from one natural disaster to another they love calling Kaikoura home.
“Kaikoura is a fantastic place to live; we love the majestic mountain backdrop visible almost everywhere you go. We had already started our own contract brewing label, Emporium Brewing the previous year and we were looking for somewhere to set up our own brewery when we stumbled upon the building here in Kaikoura.”
They worked hard to get the building up to their high standards and opened to the public in October 2016, 5 weeks before the earthquake... not great timing for a new business! The impact of the quake hit them hard and they had to put their new dream on hold. Laura and Paul worked in the local community with extra jobs to keep finances flowing. “The earthquake has made us change our priorities. We have recently added 2 Escape Rooms to our business, these were always part of the plan but we decided to focus on them first as they are a great indoor activity.”
With plans to get their brewery fully operational and a bar/tasting room underway, they can’t wait for the summer season and the return of the Coastal Pacific. So after sitting back and taking in the scenery on the train head to Emporium and share a locally made brew (once you’ve made it out of the escape room of course!)
The Coastal Pacific train
The Coastal Pacific train journeys along the ruggedly beautiful coastline, you’ll get astonishingly close to the surging Pacific Ocean and steeply rising Kaikoura Ranges. The train departs from Picton or Christchurch daily from 27th September 2019 for a limited season, arriving into the Kaikoura Whaleway station.
We are delighted to be returning to Kaikoura again this summer (2019/2020), this incredible town welcomes tourists and locals alike with smiles, delicious food and unique experiences. With so many must-do activities in and out of the ocean, this is the kind of place where you will want to stay a while. There are many more stories to be told, so say Kia Ora to this amazing little town and find out why we love it so much.