First Whale Watch tour leaves Kaikoura after bad weather halted return to business
Sightseers and staff were "quite emotional" as a whale-watching boat departed Kaikoura – a trip local businesses hope signifies a prosperous future for the damaged town.
It was the first tour run by Whale Watch Kaikoura, the town's largest tourism operator, since the 7.8 earthquake in November.
"It was a full boat and all the guests were just as excited as the crew," Whale Watch Kaikoura marketing manager Lisa Bond said.
"We congratulated them on being the first tour since the quake, and there was lots of clapping and cheering – it was quite emotional really, in a good way."
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A group of 47 was on board, including young families, Kiwis and tourists of many nationalities, Bond said.
"We were able to see a sperm whale and also saw albatross and lots of marine birds.
"We also went and visited Barney's Rock and saw New Zealand fur seals and there were numerous sightings of dusky dolphins around the boat."
Whale Watch Kaikoura officially reopened on Monday for the first time since November 14, but bad weather meant they could not get their boats out to sea.
The 6.45am tour on Tuesday departed as planned, leaving from the marina during high tide.
"We are assessing each trip and will decide whether we can use the marina or whether we will use the ramp to launch boats," Bond said.
The 9am tour also departed as planned and a 5pm sailing was expected to proceed, if the weather held up.
"We're still a long way down from where we'd want to be, but anything's better than where we were, at zero," Whale Watch chief executive Kauahi Ngapora said on Monday.
The new year should be peak tourist season in Kaikoura. Most of its operators live and die by the summer months to get through quiet winters.
Another major wildlife business, Encounter Kaikoura, had been open for several weeks but was also unable to operate on Monday due to weather.
It too was at limited capacity. It could only get its larger 14m boat out in the morning, and used a smaller boat throughout the day.
"This is our boom time, so all of our trips would be full for swimmers, and we'd be taking out a lot of spectators as well," general manager Dennis Buurman said.
"It's knocking us back quite severely. But in saying that, we're just so pleased to be getting out and getting some trips back in."
Quite a few people were coming into Kaikoura now the road had re-opened, he said.
"While it's good we have people coming in now, we face the winter with some trepidation.
"This is probably what we operate like in winter time, so when winter comes along, what's it going to be like then? We just don't know how it's going to play out."