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 its length, the trail would naturally tell the story behind its own inception: the powerful 2016 earthquake which was one of the most complex ever recorded, the dramatic transformations it caused to the landscape, and the resilience, courage and strength of people and communities who lived through it.

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 – from the Kaikōura ranges plunging down to the coast and the ‘big deep’ of the Hikurangi Trench, and inland across river valleys, rolling hill country and plains, and far away to the outer reaches of the Marlborough Sounds.

Whale tales

The giants' journey through time and tide

There are few places in the world where whales 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 then the whaling era, through to conservation, regeneration and 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.

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.

New settlers

Making places, building communities

When whalers and sealers arrived in Marlborough from the late 1820s, they set off a wave of ‘firsts’ in New Zealand including the first Pākehā baby born in the South Island.

From their endeavours sprang ports and towns, soon surrounded by pastoral farming and agriculture that swept across the plains.

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.

Land of plenty

A feast of cuisine, culture and visitor attractions

Although deservedly famous for world-class wine, seafood, sunshine, garlic, nuts and honey, there are many more ingredients that make Marlborough and Kaikōura such brilliant places to visit and live.

The Whale Trail can highlight attractions and activities catering to every taste – from New Zealand’s biggest wine region and its longest-running farmers’ market, to award-winning marine tours, museums, accommodation and restaurants.

Rail tales

Setting a course for the future

No other industry has empowered New Zealand enterprise like the railways. Painstakingly built from the 1860s across previously untamed terrain, they stand as testament to the hard work, ingenuity and grit 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 signals a new era.