Maori sculpture in Kaikoura, New Zealand (Photo: Molly Feltner)

With interest in cultural tourism growing around the world, some Maori groups in New Zealand are beginning to open up their homes and lands to visitors, explaining their history and traditions through tours and more»

Photo: Eric Kamp/Index Open

A group representing senior citizens says seniors should be exempt from the passport rule because it places a "significant expense" on them. Our blogger more»

Photo: IndexOpen

AirTran has unveiled its two newest destination cities: Portland, Maine, and Charleston, South Carolina. The airline is offering special introductory fares for each as more»

Seat-back TVs featuring 36 channels of DIRECTV on JetBlue's Airbus A320s (Photo: JetBlue)

JetBlue's freshly minted customer bill of rights is getting its first real test today courtesy of Mother more»

For a change of pace, head to <a href="" target="_blank">Kaikoura</a>, a town of about 4,000 people on the northeastern coast of the South Island, where you can swap mountain adventures for amazing animal encounters. Kaikoura is renowned for is stellar marine mammal populations, including significant numbers of sperm whales, New Zealand fur seals, and dusky dolphins. There are also albatross, humpback whales, orcas (killer whales), and lots of crayfish (rock lobsters), which aren't exciting but taste better than regular lobsters.

Most everyone comes to Kaikoura for the whales, as the water offshore is one of the few places in the world you can see sperm whales year-round. Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales, reaching nearly 60 feet in length and weighing up 45 tons. They come to Kaikoura because the Hikorangi Trench drops off more than 6,500 feet just a kilometer offshore, creating an ideal environment for creatures like the <a href="" target="_blank">giant squid</a>, which the whales eat. 

<a href="" target="_blank">Whale Watch Kaikoura</a>, a Maori-owned company, operates the only boat-based whale-watching outfit in the area, running up to 16 trips per day in peak season (November to April). Whale Watch Kaikoura sails high-speed catamarans that can reach the whales in minutes, not hours. They use a hydrophone to pick up the whales' clicks and predict where they will surface. Most trips average one or two sperm whale sightings. Trips start at $130 NZ per person (about $91 USD).

<strong>Trip planning</strong>: One-way flights from Queenstown to Christchurch, which has the nearest major airport, start at $126 plus taxes on <a href="" target="_blank">Air New Zealand</a>. The drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura is 2.5 hours.
(Photo: Molly Feltner)

Kaikoura, New Zealand, is known for its flourishing populations of whales, seals, dolphins, and other marine more»

Rippon Winery, Wanaka, New Zealand (Photo: Molly Feltner)

The Central Otago region's pinot noirs have been called the best outside more»

From the valley floor, you'll cross a stream, still frigid and glowing blue from the glacier it melted off only minutes earlier. You'll hike a short but sometimes strenuous trail through virgin beech forest filled with prehistoric looking ferns and friendly birds who seem unafraid of people (New Zealand birds has no predators before humans came). 

In about 2.5 hours, you'll come to the Wilkin River, where a <a href="" target="_blank">jet boat</a> will pick you up and speed you back to civilization in a mere 30 minutes. A New Zealand invention, jet boats use a water propulsion system to generate speed, not an outside propeller, allowing them to travel on streams just a few inches deep and turn on a dime at speeds of up to 40 knots. Trips start at $245 NZ per person (about $171 USD).
(Photo: Molly Feltner)

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Josh and I just found out Today in Travel has been selected as a finalist in the Best Informative/Practical Travel blog category of the 2007 Travvies, the travel blog awards from the Upgrade: Travel Better more»

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AAA has made its previously members-only TripTik technology available for general use online. This is just the sort of thing I always wish for when I'm already on the more»