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Stories of the Trail

The Whale Trail New Zealand_Logomark_Pos

The Whale Trail project aims to bring landscapes, places and people to life with captivating tales of the past, present and future.

From the myths, legends and experiences of early Māori, the first European settlers and now to modern life and industries, The Whale Trail can connect visitors to our regional identity through the fascinating stories that have shaped us.

Nature's power

Discover how The Whale Trail was born

Along the Pacific Rim of Fire sits Aotearoa New Zealand, smack-bang on the collision course of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates – two parts of the Earth’s crust locked in a power-play that has borne volcanoes, uplifted mountains, and triggered earthquakes that have rocked, ruptured and reshaped our landscape.


The 2016 Kaikōura earthquake proved to be one of the biggest, most studied and most complex on record. Created in its wake, The Whale Trail is a way to survey its dramatic transformations while witnessing the rebuilding, regrowth, and the resilience of local people.

From mountains to sea

Marlborough's and Kaikoura's natural world revealed

Aotearoa New Zealand’s highest peak outside of the Southern Alps, Tapuae-o-Uenuku, is the sacred mountain who stands sentinel over remarkable surrounds – looking south to the Kaikōura ranges, east to the Pacific coast and the ‘big deep’ of the undersea Hikurangi Trench, and north across river valleys, rolling hill country and plains, and far away to the outer reaches of the Marlborough Sounds.


Our natural world is undoubtedly beautiful and remarkably diverse. Between icy peaks and salty shore, endemic and introduced plants, animals, coastal and marine life co-exist in a series of unique and ever changing environments.

Whale tales

The giants' journey through time and tide

Marlborough and Kaikōura are synonymous with the whales that gather off its coast – including the resident sperm whale, migrating endangered southern right and humpback whales – drawn here by the abundant marine life that flourishes in a staggering underwater canyon.


There are few places in the world where these remarkable creatures can be encountered so readily, up close, wild and free. The Whale Trail will celebrate this while sharing the stories unique to this place – from Māori legends and the whaling days, through to conservation, regeneration and sustainable eco-tourism.

Te ao Māori

History and traditions of tāngata whenua


To Māori, the top of the South Island is Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka-a-Māui – the prow of Māui’s canoe – and the place where Kupe defeated te wheke (the octopus) after chasing it in his waka all the way from Hawaiki. So began the great migration and the first human settlement in Aotearoa, at Te Pokohiwi a Kupe (‘the shoulder of Kupe’, commonly known as the Wairau Bar) around the late thirteenth century.


The iwi of Marlborough and Kaikōura each have their own kete (basket) of stories. As they weave through The Whale Trail they tell of tīpuna (ancestors), tikanga (customs), Te Tiriti (the Treaty) and much more, while offering insight into contemporary Māoritanga and mana whenua (customary rights).

The trail will provide infrastructure and invite iwi to tell their stories.

Our home

Making places, building communities

From 1740 the migration of settlers began, with whalers and sealers arriving in Marlborough from the late 1820s. From their endeavours sprang ports and towns, soon surrounded by farming that swept across the land and sea.


By the mid 1850s the die was cast for the Marlborough and Kaikōura we see today – productive and progressive, and home to people of increasingly diverse nationalities, each contributing their unique traditions and culture, bringing with them innovation and constantly shaping our society.

Land of plenty

A bounty of food, wine, culture and attractions


Famous for world-class wine, seafood and sunshine, there are also many more ingredients that make Marlborough and Kaikōura such brilliant places to live and visit.


The Whale Trail connects you with attractions and activities for everyone: New Zealand’s longest-running farmers’ market, wine country, award-winning marine tours, sea and freshwater fishing, mussels and shellfish, produce, trails, festivals, events, museums, galleries, gardens, cuisine, landscapes and plenty more.

Rail tales

Setting a course for the future

No other industry has enabled New Zealand enterprise like the railways. From the 1860s kiwi grit and determination painstakingly built rail across previously untamed terrain. Standing testament to the hard work and ingenuity involved in connecting the regions for travel and trade.

As elsewhere in New Zealand, generations of railway workers have left an indelible legacy on Marlborough and Kaikōura. Historic bridges, tunnels and railway stations tell of the early days, while roll-on roll-off ferries had a far-reaching effect from the 1960s. In the wake of the 2016 earthquake, the incredible, award-winning rebuild of the coastal railway corridor signaled a new era and brought to life the unique opportunity for creation of The Whale Trail for your enjoyment.

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