Dolphins, seals, albatrosses, whales of all kinds... Kaikoura is paradise for New Zealand visitors who love the sea. This charming town on the edge of the South Pacific Ocean is home to many marine animals, and there are plenty of opportunities for whale-watching or seal-spotting. But there’s also fishing, diving, and plenty to do on land, as well.
Once a 19th-century whaling colony, Kaikoura is now a town dedicated to observing and protecting its local marine wildlife. Kaikoura is a popular destination for day trips and shore excursions from nearby Christchurch thanks to loads of tour operators offering the chance to watch whales, spot dolphins, see southern fur seals at their Kaikoura Peninsula breeding colony, and visit local albatross nesting areas.
Under the sea, Kaikoura’s impressive reefs make for great scuba diving opportunities. The town is also a popular spot for ocean fishing, and crayfishing is still a significant part of the local economy. On land, there are scenic walks around the peninsula and up the nearby Seaward Kaikoura Mountains. If you’re less interested in working up a sweat, catch the sun at picturesque Kaikoura Beach or browse the local produce and artisanal goods at the popular farmers market, held every Sunday between April and November.
Things to Know Before You Go
Kaikoura is a must for lovers of nature, wildlife, and the outdoors.
In 2016, Kaikōura was struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake and much of the town is still recovering, so be careful on the roads and help out where you can.
Kaikoura has a number of holiday parks and campgrounds; freedom camping on the Kaikoura Peninsula is not permitted.
The town is serious about looking after its environment, so dispose of trash properly and respect the local animal populations.
If you’re planning on fishing, make sure you’re familiar with the rules around how much you can catch, size limits, and places where you cannot fish.
How to Get There
Kaikoura is roughly 110 miles (177 kilometers) north of Christchurch and 95 miles (153 kilometers) south of Picton along State Highway One. Buses run between these three destinations on a regular basis, but to really enjoy the panoramic coastal views, take the Coastal Pacific Train from Christchurch or Picton during the summer.
When to Get There
Kaikoura has a steady population of dolphins and sperm whales, but the winter months are typically good for spotting other types of whales too, like humpbacks and blue whales, migrating from the Antarctic sea to warmer waters. If you’d rather enjoy the sun, visit between December and April: the sun is out and fur seal breeding season is ending, so there might be plenty of seal pups at the local colony.
Discover Historic Kaikoura
The town of Kaikoura was founded in the mid-19th century as the Whaiopuka whaling station. Few remnants of that station still exist, but the striking pink Fyffe House on Avoca Street, the only surviving building from that period, is open to visitors most days. The Kaikoura Museum has exhibits about the area’s natural history, the Maori tribes (iwi Māori) who lived there precolonization, and the town’s origins as a whaling station.