Natural, just as it should be

21:25, Jan 12 2012
Wings over whales
Aerial view: Marlborough Express reporter Ian Allen looking for whales on board a Wings Over Whales plane off the coast of Kaikoura.

As they say in Kaikoura, "there's more to a whale than just a tail".

Whale watching is somewhat compulsory along the coast but there's more than one way to skin this cat. OK, perhaps that's a bad analogy when referring to an animal with such a troubled past.

Anyway, I went airborne with Wings Over Whales just before Christmas to see the full splendour of that impressive mammal as it cruised effortlessly through the ocean.

Excited by the idea of spotting my first ever whale, I was feeling pretty confident. The company has a success rate of 95 per cent.

I felt even more assured after boarding our small aircraft to see that pilot Rhys Dillon had all sorts of dashboard equipment for locating our prize.

But even with all that technology, it's just not as easy as that.


We must have been patrolling the coastline waters from 304 metres (1000 feet) for 20 minutes before a sighting.

That was OK though, I was still enjoying the 45-degree angle of the plane as we circled for another pass.

However, much to my relief, and that of the Dutch couple on board with their two young children, Rhys pointed to the blow-hole spray of a male sperm whale in front of our aircraft.

We dropped to 152 metres (500 feet) for a closer look as the two boat tours below started making their way over.

From the sky you see the full length of the beast, which can be up to 19 metres, as it catches its breath on the surface before going for another 45-minute dive. So don't hang about with your camera.

After she took the plunge, it was time to head back to Kaikoura airport as our 30 minutes were up but on the way we flew over a pod of maybe 200 Dusky Dolphins. I've never seen so many dolphins, although considering Belfast Zoo has about three sharing an oversized bathtub that's hardly surprising.

It was a great experience being able to witness both these magnificent animals in their natural habitat, as it should be.

The Marlborough Express