Kaikoura. Town in New Zealand, Oceania


Town in New Zealand, Oceania

Kaikoura Photo © Andrea Schaffer

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	Seal at Kaikoura - Kaikoura
Sleeping Seal at Kaikoura - Kaikoura. Photo by Jason Pratt
With a permanent population of just 2,000, the seaside town of Kaikoura is a nature-lovers paradise. With stunning natural attractions, whalewatching and seafood to die for, this is one stop you must make in the South Island.


Kaikoura is a town on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. At the south end of the town, the Kaikoura Peninsula extends into the sea, causing upwelling currents to bring diverse marine life in from the nearby Hikurangi Trench. The Seaward Kaikoura mountains, a branch of the Southern Alps, border Kaikoura to the inland.

Kaikoura peninsula walkway -
Kaikoura peninsula walkway. Photo by Joan Campderrós-i-Canas


According to Maori legend, explorer Tama ki Te Rangi arrived in the region hundreds of years ago, tired and hungry. Upon finding an abundance of crayfish, he named the area “Te Ahi Kaikoura a Tama ki Te Rangi” (the fire that cooked the crayfish of tama ki Te Rangi). Today the shortened name has stuck, with Kaikoura literally meaning “meal of crayfish”.

Archaeological remains indicate that Maori first inhabited the region around 900 years ago. In Maori legend, explorer Maui placed his foot on the Kaikoura peninsula while he “fished up” the North Island. The plentiful food supply in the region supported Maori settlement for hundreds of years, and several pa (fortress) sites can still be found on the peninsula today.

Captain Cook was the first European to discover the Kaikoura peninsula in 1770. Whalers followed in the next century, establishing a whaling station in 1843. The industry burgeoned and grew to employ over one hundred men in the Kaikoura district. A decline in the whale population after 1850 led many whalers to turn to other employment, such as farming. Whaling ceased completely in 1964.

Orca - Kaikoura
Orca - Kaikoura. Photo by Victoria Hoete-Dodd


The coast off Kaikoura sees several different species of whale throughout the year. The huge sperm whales can almost always be seen, as they feast on the abundant marine life of the Kaikoura waters, building up their strength to move to the mating grounds of waters further north. Also in the waters you can find dusky dolphins, the rare hector’s dolphins, humpback whales and orca.

Also on the coast is a large colony of southern fur seals, which can be easily viewed at low tide. Kaikoura also has great access to watching open ocean seabirds, such as albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, the latter of which nest high in Kaikoura’s mountains.

On the water

Kaikoura is a popular tourist destination due in large part to the ready availability of whale watching off the coast. Local operators offer tours to see these majestic animals, either from above by plane or by boat. Boat departures leave several times daily. Some operators even provide wetsuits so you can jump in alongside dolphins.

Kaikoura boats great fishing grounds, any local guide can take you out on a boat to show you the best spots. If you scuba dive, the waters off Kaikoura offer some of the best reef diving in the country.

On land

There is also a plethora of activities on land to enjoy, from four wheel motor biking to horse trekking and hunting.

The beautiful hills and mountains surround Kaikoura offer some spectacular hiking. A favorite of tourists and locals alike, Mt Fyffe is named after the first family to settle in Kaikoura, and a walking track makes it way up to the summit where you can enjoy panoramic views of the Kaikoura peninsula.

The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a short one-hour walk, covering 2.7 miles in total. You can walk all or part of the trail. The walkway has beautiful ocean views and you’ll be able to observe a variety of marine wildlife. The walkway is just five minutes from the town center.


Aside from the namesake crayfish, Kaikoura prides itself on the quality of its seafood. Local delicacies include grouper, cod, mussels and paua (abalone), and you can also enjoy oysters, scallops and whitebait in season. Kaikoura has some great restaurants, as well as the New Zealand staple fast food of fish and chips, as well as cafés serving up excellent coffee and snacks.

Getting there

The best access to Kaikoura is via road. Kaikoura is 112 miles north of Christchurch, a 2.5 hour drive along State Highway 1. Christchurch has an airport with domestic and international connections. From Kaikoura you can reach Blenheim in 1.5 hours, and Picton in two hours.

The Coastal Pacific passenger train connects Kaikoura to Christchurch to the south, and Picton and the Cook Strait ferries to the north.

Other info

Temperatures in Kaikoura are mild, reaching around 68 °F in summer, and not often dropping below five degrees Celsius in winter.

The Kaikoura i-SITE Visitor Information Center on West End provides further information about attractions in Kaikoura, as well as offering booking services for many operators. The center is open from 8:30am to 6pm daily during summer, and from 9am – 5pm weekdays and 9am – 4pm weekends during winter.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Apr 13, 2016

Pictures of Kaikoura

Kaikoura peninsula - Kaikoura
Kaikoura peninsula - Photo by Andrea Schaffer

Kaikoura - Kaikoura
Kaikoura - Photo by Andrea Schaffer

Kaikoura - Kaikoura
Kaikoura - Photo by Andrea Schaffer

Kaikoura peninsula walkway - Kaikoura
Kaikoura peninsula walkway - Photo by Andrea Schaffer


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