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Whale Watching with Air Kaikoura

Whale Watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura MBZ (Mandatory Broadcast Zone) is becoming very busy with both commercial and private aircraft viewing the whales. They too have the right to fly in the MBZ and look at the whales. But for everyone's safety there are some simple rules to follow.

There are also some operating procedures the local commercial operators have put in place for a smooth operation in this busy environment.

Procedures and Separation

At all times it is requested for recreational aircraft to maintain a minimum of 500 ft above the local commercial aircraft while they are operating in the area, thus at 1500 ft msl. You may note the commercial operators only have a vertical separation of 200 ft, this is minimal however and all outside aircraft should maintain 500 ft above them.

Adequate vertical separation is essential while searching, as everyone is looking down for whales and not necessarily for other aircraft! If you want to descent through the altitude of another aircraft you must ensure that you are well clear of that aircraft, have them in sight or assure you are well clear by accurate position reports.


Brief accurate position and altitude reports (with local QNH) are required at least every 10 minutes or on locating a whale or on request from another aircraft. Please talk to the operators so that everyone is aware of where the private aircraft are and what they are doing.

Position reporting

Over water there are obviously no reporting points so common landmarks are used as a reference and report a distance from them, ie 2 NM S/E of airfield. You can also combine two points to make a landline: Mt Fyffe over Sharks Tooth 5 NM. Some points to be familiar with are:

  • Sharks Tooth, largest rock crop out from the peninsula to the south
  • Mt Fyffe, lowest peak in foreground of the seaward Kaikoura's closest to the airfield
  • Light house/Northern tip, light house on Kaikoura peninsula
  • Haumuri Bluffs, 8 NM south of airfield
  • Kowhai River, 1 NM N/E of airfield (finals runway 23)
  • Goose Bay, 6 NM south of airfield
  • Oaro, 7 NM south of airfield

Whale located

When local aircraft locate a whale they will descent to 500 ft together or 1000 ft if there are already three vessels/aircraft operating the whale. It is asked that outside aircraft maintain 500 ft vertical separation from these commercial operators. As mentioned above you will notice local aircraft operating at the same height and sometimes in opposite orbits, these pilots are very experienced and fully versed with flying in close proximity to one another. Please maintain 500 ft vertical separation (above) from these aircraft!


Wearing a life jacket and any survival equipment is highly recommendable and it is advisable to carry a life raft especially beyond 10 NM. It is extremely open water of the coast and water temperatures rarely get above 13°C.

Marine Mammals Protection Act

There are some rules in place to protect these wonderful mammals so we can hopefully have the priviledge of viewing them many years to come. First there is a cone of silence around the whale, this consist of 500 ft vertically and 500 ft horizontally from the whale. In other words you must maintain an orbit not below 500 ft and may not fly directly over it.

This area extends to 1000 ft when there already three (3) vessels/aircraft already viewing, thus no more than three (3) vessels around unless you are above 1000 ft.

If there are less than three boats viewing the whale and no other aircraft in the whale watch area you can descent as low as 500 ft to view the whale.

Enjoy the trip!

Written by EAI.

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