Whale Watching with Wings over Whales Kaikoura

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We were 8 months into our trip around the world. We had spent a day with elephants in Thailand, hopped around with kangaroos in Australia, swam with turtles in Bali, and got bossed around by a monkey in Cambodia. It was time to tick another animal encounter off of our bucket list: whales. So on our last day on the south island of New Zealand, we went whale watching with Wings over Whales Kaikoura.

Read all about our whale watching experience with Wings over Whales Kaikoura here.

Wings over Whales Kaikoura – practical

Usually people go whale watching by boat. Brecht tends to get a little seasick though, so when he read about Wings over Whales Kaikoura it was decided: we would be whale watching by plane.

Wings over Whales Kaikoura offers whale watching flights in small airplanes. After a 15 minute pre-flight briefing, you’ll spend 30 minutes in the air. All passengers get a window seat in one of the high-winged aircrafts for an unobstructed view on the water below. They can’t guarantee you’ll see a whale, but there’s a 95% chance you will. They can’t control nature, so there’s no refund. When they’re unable to fly due to bad weather however, you can choose to reschedule or get a refund. They ask to phone them one hour before your flight to check if they’ll take off as planned.

Ready for our FlightReady for our Flight
The CockpitThe Cockpit
Birthe in the BackseatBirthe in the Backseat

A whale watching flight with Wings over Whales Kaikoura costs NZ$180 per person (adult), or at least in 2016 it did. You can find up-to-date pricing information on their website. However, Brecht booked us a time slot through BookMe for only NZ$119 per person. Wings over Whales Kaikoura recommends advance reservations all year round, but especially during the months of November to March. There’s a shuttle service available from the Kaikoura town centre, for an additional NZ$10 per person.

Wings over Whales Kaikoura – our experience

About 20 minutes before our scheduled departure we walked into the Wings over Whales Kaikoura building. Andrew, our pilot, welcomed us and gave us the pre-flight briefing. Using a video and a slideshow, he explained what we would be looking for. Whales, duhuh, but he explained what behaviour to look out for, what kind of whales we could and could not spot, what the life of a whale looks like and he gave some safety instructions as well.

It’s possible to see all different species of whales in Kaikoura, except for the grey whale. The most probable one is the sperm whale though, as some males live there all year round. Did you know a sperm whale tooth weighs up to 1 kg (a pack of sugar)? We held a replica.

Brecht had booked a whale watching flight in the afternoon. Andrew told us they had a 100% success rate so far that day, so we were really excited! We would be flying in the smallest airplane they have, which can hold only 4 people, including the pilot. Everyone had a life vest, a headset, and a window seat. Brecht even had a front row seat, next to Andrew!

Searching for WhalesSearching for Whales
Found a School of DolphinsFound a School of Dolphins
A Whale Waving GoodbyeA Whale Waving Goodbye
Flying over Beautiful KaikouraFlying over Beautiful Kaikoura

Andrew promised us a free coke if we spotted a whale before he did, but unfortunately he was first. He circled around above the whale, so we could watch him do his thing. It was a male sperm whale, about 19 meters long. It was huge! Suddenly Andrew warned us the whale was preparing to dive deep, and indeed, he did. It was awesome, seeing him breach and flap that tail before diving deep again. The photos might not be the most stunning ever, but we were enjoying the moment as well, you know. 😉

When the whale was gone, Andrew asked us if we wanted to search for another whale, but we opted for dolphins. The dusky dolphins we were looking for live in large pods of up to 400 dolphins. From the air we had an awesome overview over the entire pod, swimming along a boat and playfully jumping in and out of the water. We obviously weren’t that close to them as the people on the boat, but they didn’t have the overview we had. It would have been nice if we already had our binoculars then.

We still had a couple of minutes left, so Andrew took us to where the New Zealand fur seals spend their days. They were basically just black dots on the rocks below us, but again we had a great view of how many there actually were. When heading back to the base, he made a short detour over Kaikoura, for some more nice views.

Should you go Whale Watching by Plane or by Boat?

Like I said before, most people go whale watching by boat. It’s slightly cheaper and you’re closer to the whales. A whale watching flight has several pros as well though. We opted for a whale watching flight with Wings over Whales Kaikoura because Brecht tends to get seasick on boats. We had never flown in a small aircraft either, so that were two birds with one stone.

Exploring the CoastlineExploring the Coastline
Approaching the RunwayApproaching the Runway

It also takes up waaay less time to go whale watching by airplane instead of by boat. While in total you should allow for 1 hour when you go by plane, it will take up to 3.5 hours when you opt for a boat, with the same success rates. Even though you won’t be as close to the marine life as when you’re on a boat (binoculars can help though), you do get a unique perspective. The overview is awesome! And you get a free bird’s eye view of Kaikoura on top!

We had a great time watching whales, dolphins and seals with Wings over Whales Kaikoura. We could easily spend an entire day like that, but unfortunately our budget didn’t allow for that. Andrew was very friendly and full of information. And God, we’re jealous of his job. We can definitely recommend Wings over Whales Kaikoura!


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Whale Watching with Wings over Whales KaikouraWhale Watching with Wings over Whales Kaikoura