In the 1980’s Kaikoura was suffering from high unemployment, reduced self esteem, high levels of drug and alcohol offending. It became a ghost town when first the whaling ceased and then the railways were privatised. The railways had been the major employer.. Kaikoura was isolated and impoverished. The Maori were particularly hard hit and they tried river rafting and bush walking businesses. These failed. The whale was of huge significance locally but as was explained to me last August ?when you live under the mountains you don?t see them.? From Kaikoura it is possible to see New Zealand Fur Seals and 18 species of whales and dolphins.
In 1987 four Maori families mortgaged their houses to raise the capital to try whale watching, under the chairmanship of Bill Solomon.. In 1987, their first year of operation, they operated an eight-seater Naiad, working for a year without wages they carried 3,000 people to watch the whales offering ?a slight brush with God?. By 1991 they had four boats and carried 18,000 people. Since 1994 Whale Watch Kaikoura has operated with sound proofed inboard diesel motors. Whale watching was the salvation of the community, preserving its identity and sense of self worth.
In retrospect it may seem obvious that whale watching would be a great success at Kaikoura, it was not so obvious in the late eighties and Bill Solomon and the four original Maori families took an enormous risk as the community moved from hunting whales to watching them, the whales became a sacred asset. There was conflict in the community, there was jealousy, a bus was firebombed. The town has prospered with the growth and whale watching has brought renewed prosperity to the town with solid sustained growth in accommodation and tourism services. Today the offices of Whale Watch Kaikoura are in the railway station, the have found a sustainable use fot it.
Whale Watch Kaikoura now carries between 90,000 and 100,000 guests each year with an annual turnover of NZ$10,000,000. Whale Watch Kaikoura remains a 100% Maori owned business. Whale Watch Kaikoura is a community based company which invests its profits back into the town. The majority shareholder is the Kaikoura Charitable Trust which has 56.5% of the ownership which includes both the local tribe, Ngati Kuri, and the original four families (Solomon, Clayton, Oliver & Kahu). The company makes a minimum payment of NZ$550,000 from profits to the Kaikoura Charitable Trust for local distribution. The minority shareholder is the Te Runanga O Ngai Tahu the larger South Island tribal entity of 18 Hapu or sub-tribes of which the Ngati Kuri of Kaikoura is one.
Whale Watch Kaikoura is the largest employer in the town with over 70 staff at peak season and its success is at the heart of the development of tourism in the town providing a market for tour operators, cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, motels, backpackers, holiday parks, transport providers and retail outlets, creating a vibrant local economy.
1) Each year all 8 year olds in Kaikoura are provided free with a whale watching experience so that they appreciate their heritage.
2) Whale Watch Kaikoura is Qualmark EnviroGOLD accredited
3) Whale Watch Kaikoura has supported the restoration of Takahanga Marae the traditional meeting place of the Ngati Kuri of Kaikoura
4) New whale watching vessels and coaches meet European emissions standards as Wale Watch Kaikoura reduces its carbon footprint.
5) Whale Watch Kaikoura invested NZ$1,000,000 in educational animation to enhance the guests experience by interpreting the undersea world and revealing the trench which attracts the whales.
6) Whale Watch Kaikoura donated 2.4ha of land to the Department of Conservation to establish a new nesting area for the endangered Hutton Shearwater.
7)The Kaikoura Peninsula was occupied by Maori for 1000 years with 14 pa sites Te Wairoa O Te Hiku (the flukes of the whales tail) was the most densely populated area when the Maori colonised what is now New Zealand. Whale Watch Kaikoura purchased the land for NZ$3,000,000 to secure their Maori heritage.
8) Since 2007 Whale Watch Kaikoura has invested NZ$6,000,000 in the Spirit of Migloo they are Sea World’s partner on the Australian Gold Coast providing the same high quality whale watching experience.
ICRT Leeds Met