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Kaikoura | © Andrea Schaffer/Flickr
Kaikoura | © Andrea Schaffer/Flickr
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How To Spend 48 Hours in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 3 January 2018
Kaikoura is a South Island town renowned for its eco-friendly activities, marine wildlife and seafood. If you’ve got two days free to explore this charming destination, this 48-hour guide will help you get the most out of your visit.

Day one: Arrival and inland exploration

There are different ways to reach Kaikoura. If you’ve landed in Christchurch, it takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes to make the drive north, via State Highway 1. For those who started their New Zealand journey in Wellington, you’ll need to catch the ferry to Picton (a 3-hour, 15-minute trip) before heading on the drive down to Kaikoura (which in itself takes about as long as the trip from Christchurch).

Late morning-afternoon: Arrive and check into accommodation

We’re keeping the times flexible here because they’ll depend entirely on which route you’ve taken. If you’ve made an early morning trip from Christchurch, for instance, you’re likely to arrive at around 11 a.m.; those heading from Picton straight to Kaikoura might arrive around lunchtime. As for accommodation, there’s a myriad of options available — it’s easy enough just to pick one that suits your budget and is most conveniently located to your list of must-do activities. It pays to book your room in advance (especially in the high summer season), as the town is quite popular with visitors.

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The road to Kaikoura | © Tom Hall/Flickr

Afternoon: Lunch and the Kaikoura Peninsula Walk

Head to town to get some food into your system before spending the rest of the day exploring some of Kaikoura’s inland attractions. Many of the cafes around town are located on the main streets — Beach Road and the Esplanade — so you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to finding the ideal lunch spot. Hislops Wholefoods for instance is well-liked for its freshly baked breads, muffins and cakes as well as ever-changing breakfast and lunch menu.

Hislops Wholefoods Cafe, 33 Beach Rd, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand, +64 3-319 6971

The wildlife abundant Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is the closest trail from town. There are various short walking options around here — you might end up spending five hours exploring the path, depending on your disposition. The 50-minute walk from the town centre into the Point Kean car park will get you up close and personal to a local fur seal colony. Most of the seals you’ll encounter are males — don’t get too close to them as they might become aggressive. From Point Kean you can follow onto Whalers Bay where you’ll catch sight of all kinds of native vegetation as well as some wading birds and blue penguins going about their day.

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Point Kean fur seal colony in Kaikoura | © _somaholiday/Flickr

Evening: A seafood dinner

Kaikoura’s name can be broken down into two Maori words: kai for food and koura for crayfish. Needless to say, that is the must-try speciality when it comes to seafood. Most of the town’s bars and restaurants will offer you the opportunity to taste these native seafood species, among many other types of fish and marine morsels that can be found in the Pacific Ocean. For a fancy, sit-down meal, try a place like the Green Dolphin Restaurant; for something more low-key, The Whaler Bar and Restaurant is a good option.

Green Dolphin Restaurant and Bar, 12 Avoca St, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand, +64 3-319 6666

The Whaler Bar and Restaurant, 49-51 W End, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand, +64 3-319 3333

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Green Dolphin Restaurant and Bar, Kaikoura | © Bevis Chin/Flickr

Day two: Sea life for all

Now we get to what is, for many, the ultimate highlight for visiting Kaikoura. A morning tour of the sea is a good option for those wanting to see those famous whales, as that’s when the tides and winds are at their most optimal condition.

8:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.: Breakfast and a whale watching tour

The earliest whale watching tour is actually at 7:15 a.m., but if you want to have some breakfast before your trip the 10 a.m. tour is the best alternative. Grab a coffee and a bite to eat from the Fluke’s Seaside Cafe, which is owned and operated by Whale Watch Kaikoura itself. Then, make your way to the check in-point for a safety briefing before the boat departs on the tour. Expect to be on the water for approximately 2.5 hours.

Whale Watch Kaikoura, The Whaleway Station Whaleway Road, Kaikoura 7340, New Zealand, +64 3-319 6767

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Whale watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Lunch in town and Kaikoura Museum

Take a quick breather from all the action by grabbing some lunch in town before visiting the Kaikoura Museum. Some of the nearby eateries include The Craypot and the Why Not Cafe; there’s also a Four Square supermarket down the road if you’re feeling a bit conscious about your food expenses. You can then walk to the modern museum premises to browse the interesting photographs and historic relics that line its stunningly decorated interiors.

The Craypot, 70 W End, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand, +64 3-319 7191

Why Not Cafe, 66 W End, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand, +64 3-319 6486

Four Square Kaikoura, 31 W End, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand, +64 3-319 5332

Kaikoura Museum, 96 W End, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand, +64 3-319 7440

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3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.: Kayak by the dolphins or snorkel with the seals

Finish the afternoon with a practical — and personal — animal encounter you’ll cherish forever. Hiring a kayak for a self-guided ocean tour is a good way to spot the resident dusky dolphins. If you have an affinity for seals, Kaikoura is the only place in New Zealand which offers tours specifically geared towards swimming with these majestic creatures.

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Jumping dolphin, Kaikoura | © Strange Ones/Flickr

5:30 p.m.: Fish and chips by the sea

Let’s wrap things up on a picturesque note. Head to a takeaway shop like Cods n Cray, grab some battered fish, fresh crayfish and a scoop of chips, and then make your way towards the rugged coastlines for a meal filled with stunning vistas. This experience is good to immerse yourself in as a Kiwi summertime tradition (i.e. a fish and chips feast by the beach), and it will enable you to truly marvel at the postcard-worthy alpine landscapes that attract people to the South Island at large.

Cods & Crayfish, 81 Beach Rd, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand, +64 3-319 7899