KAIKOURA – POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION
Currently there are five permitted tour operators that specifically target fur seal colonies along the Kaikoura coast. There are also three tour operators who primarily target cetaceans for viewing, however they often take tourists to view seals if their primary targets, sperm whales and dusky dolphins, are not found. Helicopter and aeroplane viewing do not have a limit on trips, and can potentially run a trip every half hour, but historically the weekly trip number would not exceed about 170 flights. These maximum trip allotments are infrequently reached but the potential exists for seal populations in the Kaikoura region to be visited over a hundred times a week by commercial operators. Three main sites, Ohau Point, Kaikoura Peninsula and Barney’s Rock are the most frequently visited by tourists around Kaikoura.
This trench and related up welling generates the rich food supply necessary to support the many species of whales, dolphins, and seals that frequent the region. A recent case study in 1998 estimated the number of tourists visiting Kaikoura annually to be around 874,000, of these approximately 37.2% either viewed or swam with seals.
Ohau Point is along State Highway 1, 26 Jan north of the Kaikoura township. The Ohau Point colony starts from Half Moon Bay and continues past the lookout point to a rest stop across from the Ohau Stream walk, a total distance of approximately 500 m. The site was divided into 5 sub-sites to make sampling more feasible. The two peripheral sites are the most accessible to tourists and the three central sites are more sheltered from possible tourist disturbance.
The Kaikoura Peninsula is located just south of the Kaikoura township and is a popular destination for tourists. It is close to town and offers a range of activities (peninsular walkway, diving, fossicking in rock pools and viewing seals). It is a very popular location and approximately 4000 tourists were recorded visiting the peninsula in one week during the summer of 1996. Fur seals breed on Lynch’s Reef and haul-out on the tidal platfonn, offShore rocks, a small reef located at Shark’s Tooth, and, during high tides, on the edges of the car park. Fur seals hauled out on the tidal platform and car park region (usually bulls and sub-adult males) are easily accessible to tourists and, at low tide, it is possible to walk out to the breeding area. Three seal swims and one kayak tour operate around Lynch’s Reef.
Barney’s Rock is a small offShore island about 200 m from shore located 10 Jan south of the Kaikoura township along State Highway 1. In addition to a breeding colony on the island, there is a boulder beach between the highway and the sea that is used by fur seals as a haul-out. Although tourist numbers have not been very high here in the past, 9 groups of tourists observed stopped to watch seals during 40 hours of observations, knowledge of the accessibility of these seals is increasing and many bus drivers stop and guide people past the signs’through the haul out colony (pers. obs.). The island is visited by private boats as well as the seal swim, whale, dolphin and bird watch boats.