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 narrow coastal plain 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 as well. The deep-water Hikurangi Trench and the continental shelf edge lies just offshore here. This causes the ocean around Kaikoura to be rich in sea life and attracts 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 Maori settled in Kaikoura long before European colonisation of New Zealand and cultivated the coastal plain, planting kumara, a form 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 hours drive north of Christchurch, and you will pass through it on that route. State Highway 1 north and south of the town is open, but may be slow because of ongoing roadworks (as of March 2019). Additional access to Kaikoura is via the Inland Kaikoura Road (Route 70), branching 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 Airport is one of New Zealand's smaller airports. It's not just an airstrip, as the runway is sealed for a smoother landing. Don't expect to join crowds of other passengers filing aboard a widebodied jet, or even a narrowbodied one. You'll fly in a plane the size of a compact car, where every seat has a window, or two, and a door as well. You might even get to sit alongside the pilot, so don't play with the controls! Oh, and you will have to carry your own bags, so pack well and don't have too much luggage; excess baggage doesn't fly.
Sounds Air flies from Blenheim M-F 11:45, then return flight departs Kaikoura 12:45. Flight time 30 min. This is a temporary service following the earthquake, and is planned to cease after 31 August 2017.
If you want to save a few dollars, fly into Christchurch and bus, train or drive the 180 km up the coast to Kaikoura.
- 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. Has reopened after the 2016 quake. Adult $10, tertiary student $5, child free.
- Point Kean Viewpoint: 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! A parking lot is only few meters away at the end of Fyffe Quay.
Walking and hiking
- Peninsula Walkway: This beautiful well-prepared walkway starts at Point Kean Viewpoint and leads along the top of the cliffs. 5 km one-way to South Bay Beach, can be extended to a 12-km loop if you include a few streets and a way through the forest.
- Mt Fyffe Track: Starting at Mt Fyffe carpark 15km away from the center of 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.
- Hinau Track: This short 45-min loop track starting at Mt Fyffe carpark leads through special native forest where you can hear and sometimes see native birds.
A short information about these tracks is available online from the DOC.
- Sperm whales
- New Zealand fur seals
- 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.
- 1 Whale Watch Kaikoura, Whaleway Station Road (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.
- Surf reef breaks and point breaks. Two surf shops in Kaikoura plus local board manufacturer Surge Surfboards
- Fishing trip.
- 2 Kaikoura Kayaks, 19 Killarney St, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 452 456. Kayak with seals and dolphins. Adults $99, children (3-12) $70.
- 3 Dolphin Encounter, 96 Esplanade, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 733 365. Adults $95-175, children (5-14) $50-160.
- 4 Swim With Seals, 58 West End, ☏ , toll-free: 0800 732 579. Adults $55-110, children (14 and under) $35-70.
- 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.
- 5 Dive Kaikoura, 13 Yarmouth Street, ☏ , 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.
- The Top Shop Fish and Chips, Beach Road, Kaikoura (at the branch of Beach Road and Old Beach Road). 08:00-20:00 most days. 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. However, the chips are without doubt the best and great value too. Run by the nicest, friendliest and most helpful couple you could wish to meet.
- Waipapa Bay Lobsters, 32km north of Kaikoura, has crayfish – always fresh, never frozen. There are outdoor tables where you are welcome to eat, or you can have them packed on ice should you want to eat them later in the day.
- 1 Kekerengu Store, State Highway 1, Kekerengu, ☏ . Daily 08:00-17:00. 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. $18-24.
- 1 Alpine-Pacific Holiday Park, 69 Beach Road, ☏ , 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 accommodations. $21-160.
- 2 Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park, 34 Beach Road, ☏ , 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.
- Waipapa Bay Camping Ground. A small camping ground 32km north of Kaikoura. Dolphins are often seen from the camp, occasionally a whale cruises past, and there are resident seals. Fresh cooked crayfish are sold from here and registered campers get a $5 discount off each crayfish purchased. The camp is easily found as it's on SH1 and there is a giant crayfish on the roof of the crayfish shop out front.
- 3 Lazy Shag Backpackers, 37 Beach Rd, ☏ .
- Dusky Lodge. Along the main coastal road. Has a hot tub and decking area and swimming pool.
- 4 Hapuku Lodge, Station Road, Hapuku (off SH 1), ☏ . 12 km north of Kaikoura. World renowned for its whale watching and marine diversity. 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.
- St Kilda Beach Bungalow, 52 Avoca St. A renovated home that used to belong to one of Kaikoura's legendary fishermen, Richie Warman. St Kilda is directly opposite the beach, on a quiet road 2 km from the town centre. It's 100 m away from the historic Fyffe whalers cottage, 600 m to a public boat launch which is at Jimmy Armer’s beach, 1 km to the seal colony, peninsula walk and seafront BBQ. The walk to Kaikoura’s town centre and restaurants is flat and follows the sea. Opposite the house is Mics Bay which is a marine reserve and home to St Kilda’s Reef, and is a great surf spot, weather permitting. Jimmy Armer’s beach is a great spot for snorkelling and boating. St Kilda boasts breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Ideal for a romantic break or a treat for the family. There is a sheltered BBQ area, spacious spa bath, shower suitable for disabled persons. Cots and high chairs can be provided upon request. The kitchen is brand new and has all amenities. From $220.
- 5 The Fairways. Luxury accommodation in s 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.
- 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|