There has always been a deep connection between New Zealand's tangata whenua (people of the land) and the whales that grace our waters.
As children of the sea god Tangaroa, whales have a powerful presence in Maori mythology. Many of the waka (canoes) that brought Maori to New Zealand brought stories of whales guiding them into safe harbour and through storms at sea.
With the Hikurangi Trench just 80 kilometres off the coast, Kaikoura has in recent years become a focal point for people looking to meet these giants of the ocean.
Dropping to over three and a half kilometres deep in places, the trench attracts a wealth of deep-sea marine life, including sperm whales, orca, blue whales and humpback whales.
We've always had that belief when we look at the whales that they're more than fish, there's a spiritual connection, a mythological connection.Thomas Kahu Whale Watch Kaikoura guide
Perhaps the best-known story of the Maori connection with whales is that of the whale rider Paikea. Born Kahutia-te-rangi, he was rescued from a sinking waka (canoe) by a pod of humpback whales, taking the name Paikea (the Maori name for humpback whales) in recognition of their aid.
The tale was referenced in the globally-celebrated 2002 film Whale Rider.
The critically acclaimed film Whale Rider tells the story of the young girl Paikea Apirana's journey to become chief of her tribe. To fulfil her dream she must learn her people’s history and the link they share with the great humpback whales.