Kaikoura (pronounced: Kai-kou-ra) is a small coastal town on the east coast (Pacific Ocean) of the South Island of New Zealand, about 180 km north of Christchurch and 130 km south of Blenheim. It is famed for its marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals) and other sea-life, all of which you can see, some of which you can swim with, and some you can eat. In Māori, kai means "eat" and kōura is "crayfish" (rock lobster). So Kaikoura is a place to eat crayfish!
Kaikoura lies on a coastal plain and a peninsula between high mountains and the Pacific Ocean. In places along this coast the mountains drop almost straight into the sea, with barely enough flat land for a single railway line, two-lane road and rocky beach, and even then some short tunnels are needed on corners. The steepness of the mountains reflects the underwater geography, with the deep-water Hikurangi Trench and the continental shelf edge lying just offshore south of the peninsula. This makes the ocean around Kaikoura rich in sea life, attracting seals, whales (and humans) to the area to partake in the bounty of the sea.
The town has a similar charm to an east coast USA beach town, with a hodgepodge of signs trying to grab tourists' attention. At the edges of the town, the more relaxed and nature-oriented activities again take precedence.
Kaikoura is the perfect place to enjoy both the wonders of the magnificent Pacific Ocean and the tall, majestic mountains. A great place to stay, it is also an ideal rest stop on a section of State Highway 1 (SH1) that passes through isolated country north and south of the town.
The town was damaged by an earthquake in November 2016 but roads have reopened and repairs to buildings and facilities are well advanced and tourism is in full swing.
- 1 Kaikoura i-SITE, 75 West End. Summer daily 09:00-18:00, winter M–F 09:00-17:00, Sa, Su 09:00-16:00.
The Maori settled in Kaikoura long before European colonisation of New Zealand and cultivated the coastal plain, planting kumara, a type of sweet potato. Maori legend has it that Maui placed his foot on the Kaikoura Peninsula to steady himself as he 'fished-up' the North Island.
In 1770, Captain Cook discovered the Kaikoura Peninsula, believing it to be an island at first. Early European settlers used Kaikoura as a whaling station from 1842 and the remains of pots used to render the whale blubber can be seen on the town foreshore.
Kaikoura is on State Highway 1, two and a half hours drive north of Christchurch and one hour 40 minutes south of Blenheim. The highway has reopened since the 2016 earthquake, but there may be short halts where the road is temporarily restricted to one lane because of ongoing roadworks (as of February 2020).
An alternative and less used route from the south is the Inland Kaikoura Road (Route 70), which branches off State Highway 7 a few kilometres north of Culverden. Kaikoura is part of the Alpine Pacific Triangle touring route, which links three popular recreational destinations, Hanmer Springs, Waipara Valley wine region and Kaikoura. The easy and pleasant drive around the entire touring route is 370 km, beginning at its southern end a 45-min drive from Christchurch International Airport or Christchurch City and finishing at its northern end in Kaikoura.
- Main article: Rail travel in New Zealand
The Coastal Pacific train runs through Kaikoura on its way between Picton and Christchurch each day from October through April. It departs Christchurch 07:00, then departs Kaikoura 09:54, arriving Picton 12:13. Departs Picton 13:00, then departs Kaikoura 15:28, arriving Christchurch 18:21. The train journey is fantastic, with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. The track follows the coast for the last part of the journey into Kaikoura and you can often see fur seals lazing on the rocks. The station is on Whaleway Station Road (presumably named because Whale Watch Kaikoura operate out of the station).
Kaikoura Shuttles can move you around Kaikoura and further afield, daily 07:00–23:00.
- 1 Fyffe House, 62 Avoca St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Oct–Apr: daily 10:00-17:00, May–Sep: Th–M 10:00–16:00. Kaikoura's oldest building. The earliest part, built in the 1842, sits on whale vertebrae foundations. Closed until about Feb 2020 for repairs. Adult $10, tertiary student $5, child free.
- 2 Kaikoura Museum, 96 West End. Daily 10:00-17:00. It has exhibitions about the 2016 earthquake, natural history and social history. The distinctive outside of the building is built to resemble a crayfish pot made of supplejack. Adult $12, child $6.
- 3 Point Kean Viewpoint, Fyffe Quay. At the tip of the peninsula you can see fur seals sunbathing and seagulls sitting around in their nests. You can walk quite close, but please keep enough distance to avoid making them angry! The seals can be found a short walk from the carpark at the Viewpoint.
Walking and hiking
- 1 Mt Fyffe and the Seaward Kaikōura Range. The Mt Fyffe Track starts at Mt Fyffe carpark, 15 km from Kaikoura. You can hike up Mt Fyffe (8 hours loop), or return earlier (5 hours loop to Mt Fyffe Hut, or 2-3 hours loop if you turn around at the viewpoint inbetween on 600 m height). All these options offer beautiful views over the Kaikoura Plains onto the sea. The roads to the carpark are partly gravel roads, but can still be used with bicycles or normal cars. The Hinau Track is a short 45-min loop track starting at Mt Fyffe carpark that leads through an unusual native forest with a number of large hinau trees, where you can hear and see native birds.
- Peninsula Walkway. This beautiful well-prepared walkway starts at Point Kean Viewpoint and runs along the top of the cliffs. It's 5 km one-way to South Bay Beach, and can be extended to a 12-km loop if you include a few streets and a way through the forest.
- Sperm whales, dolphins, New Zealand fur seals and wandering albatross. Depending on the season you may also see migrating humpback whales, pilot whales, blue whales and southern right whales. Kaikoura often hosts the orca, the largest member of the dolphin family, and is home to the world's smallest and rarest dolphin, the Hector's. Kaikoura also attracts the largest concentration and variety of seabirds on mainland New Zealand, including 13 species of albatross, 14 varieties of petrels and 7 types of shearwater.
- 2 Dive Kaikoura, 13 Yarmouth St, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 348 352, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 5 Star PADI Dive Centre. You can dive the kelp forests and limestone reefs on guided scuba diving tours with them.
- 3 Dolphin Encounter, 96 Esplanade, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 733 365. Swimming with dolphins or just watching them. Mainly the dusky dolphin species, though other species may be about. Café Encounter is open 07:00–17:00 in summer and 07:30–16:30 in winter and gets good reviews. Adults $95-175, children (5-14) $50-160.
- Fishing trip. There are several operators.
- 4 Kaikoura Kayaks, 19 Killarney St, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 452 456. Kayak with seals and dolphins. Adults $99, children (3-12) $70.
- Kaikoura Wilderness Walks, ☏ . 2 & 3-day all-inclusive guided hikes through the privately owned Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve near Kaikoura. Upmarket lodge accommodation, untamed wilderness, dramatic alpine terrain, expert local guides.
- South Pacific Safaris, Glencree Station, RD2, ☏ . Experienced, professional hunting guides offering deer hunting trips and other trophy hunts amongst magnificent mountains near Kaikoura plus luxury hunting lodge accommodation.
- Surf reef breaks and point breaks. Two surf shops in Kaikoura plus local board manufacturer Surge Surfboards
- 5 Swim With Seals, 58 West End, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 732 579. Adults $55-110, children (14 and under) $35-70.
- 6 Whale Watch Kaikoura, Whaleway Station Rd (at the Kaikoura railway station), ☏ , toll-free: 0800 655 121. Cafe and gift shop open 09:00-15:00 daily. Adults $150, children (3-15) $60.
There are plenty of eateries along the main beachfront roads in town, i.e. Beach Rd and West End. Here are a few of them. Some of the marine tour companies have good cafes on their premises too (see above).
- 1 Allure Cafe, 11 West End. Daily 08:00–21:00. Breakfast, lunch, fried chicken, burgers,
- 2 Beach House Cafe, 39 Beach Rd. Daily 07:00–16:00.
- 3 Black Rabbit Pizza, 17 Beach Rd. 12:00–21:00.
- 4 Cods and Crayfish, 81 Beach Rd. Daily 09:00–20:00.
- 5 Coopers Catch, 9 West End. Daily 09:00–24:00. Seafood, chips, burgers. If you have your own catch they will cook your fish or crayfish for you. Eat in or take away.
- 6 Hislops Wholefoods Café, 33 Beach Rd. Daily 08:30–16:00 and summer evenings.
- 7 Kekerengu Store, State Highway 1, Kekerengu, ☏ . Daily 08:30-16:30. On the main highway, 53 km (40 minutes drive) north of Kaikoura. Stop for a bite to eat, or a meal. The best restaurant for miles - hey, its the only restaurant for miles and has to be the best, so people will stop. Just far enough north, on your way to Picton, to justify pulling over for a rest break. $18-25.
- 8 Nin's Bin, State Highway 1, Half Moon Bay (20 km north of Kaikoura). Daily 09:00-17:00. Caravan serving crayfish (lobster), mussels and other seafood takeaways. Eat at the picnic tables or take away. In business since 1977. Crayfish $88–110 each.
- 9 Pier Hotel Restaurant, 1 Avoca St (entrance on the Esplanade). Specialising in seafood, including Kaikoura's own crayfish. Reservation recommended. Dinner mains mostly $20–30. Crayfish price on application – about $45 for a half, $90 a whole.
- 10 The Top Shop, 240 Beach Rd (just off SH 1 at north end of town). 08:00-20:00 most days. Fish and chips and burgers. About 1.5 km north of the centre of Kaikoura, just on the beach side of the main road, you'll find some of the best fish in New Zealand, and the chips are great value too. Run by the nicest, friendliest and most helpful couple you could wish to meet.
- 11 Zephyr Restaurant, 40 West End. 17:30 onwards.
See also the 'Eat' section for more pubs that have restaurants.
- 1 Alpine-Pacific Holiday Park, 69 Beach Rd, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 692 322. A picturesque holiday destination offering a wide range of accommodation for motorhomes, caravans and tents. Also, a variety of self-contained accommodation. $21-160.
- Dusky Lodge & Backpackers, 67 Beach Rd. Has a hot tub and decking area and swimming pool.
- 2 The Fairways. Luxury accommodation in a residential 'eco' land development, Ocean Ridge. One and two bedroom self-contained apartments and studios. About a 5-min drive south of the town, these units feature all the mod cons including in-unit washer dryer. Two bedroom $320.
- 3 Hapuku Lodge, Station Rd, Hapuku (cnr SH 1, 12 km north of Kaikoura), ☏ . Nestled tight between the mountains and the sea, the Lodge shares the land with a deer stud and olive grove. Accommodation consists of six spacious bedrooms, a self-contained modern apartment and five luxury tree houses located in the canopy of a native manuka grove.
- 4 Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park, 34 Beach Rd, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 36 36 38. Offers a range of accommodation options including motels, self-contained units, cabins, camping and power sites. Has a heated swimming pool, spa, and adventure playground.
- 5 Lazy Shag Backpackers, 37 Beach Rd, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- North to the small town of Ward and on to Blenheim, the largest town in the Marlborough region.
- South to Waipara
|Routes through Kaikoura|
|Blenheim ← Ward ←||N S||→ Waipara → Christchurch|