This has got to be Kaikoura’s most famous must-do. The town is known for being one of the best spots to sight the massive sperm whales as they make their way towards Antarctic waters. The best part is sperm whales are usually found on these shores year-round. Other species known to make seasonal appearances include pilot whales, humpback whales, blue whales, and southern right whales.
Ever wanted to swim with dolphins? You can in Kaikoura: just hop on a Dolphin Encounter boat, grab yourself a snorkel, and plunge into the ocean to interact with the resident dusky cetaceans. Tours operate year-round and the company even runs its own beachfront cafe if you want to fuel up before or after the expedition.
An easy, one-hour walk from the town centre to the Point Kean carpark will get you close to some native fur seals and their little pups. If you want to extend your trip, keep walking towards the Point Kean viewpoint (where you might see some wading birds and penguins) and then follow the track Whalers Bay to view all kinds of wildlife living together in perfect harmony.
Not only do the Seaward Kaikoura Range and Mount Fyffe dominate the local skyline, they also offer great opportunities for some inland action. A hike up Mt Fyffe would typically take eight hours to complete, but you can half the length of your journey just by grabbing a mountain bike and pedalling the high altitudes. Be warned, this is not a feat for an unfit cyclist: the track is very steep and you’ll need to constantly give way to the hikers sharing the track with you.
The name Kaikoura literally translates to ‘eat crayfish’ – ‘kai’ means food and ‘koura’ being the Maori name for New Zealand’s crayfish species. If you love your seafood, you can join a local fishing charter to catch your own crayfish dinner – if you’re lucky you might even snag some other fish like blue cod or Tarakihi. For those who prefer a ‘catch and release’ experience, there are fishing tours geared towards that too.
If you’re keen to explore the local coastlines on your own terms, sea kayaking is a good option. Whether you opt for a guided tour package or you just want to hire the equipment for an hour or two, this practical experience offers a unique perspective of the rocky coastlines and wildlife that make Kaikoura so loved by its visitors. Kaikoura Kayaks is the main sea hire and tour operators of the kind in the area.
The Lavendyl Lavender Farm is a must-see for those who love their native plants and soothing essential oils. Stroll along the colourful gardens, unwind with a nice cuppa at the local tearoom, and find the ideal gift or souvenir for that special person who deserves to be pampered. The Lavender Farm also has a rustic cottage to accommodate anyone looking for an indulgent weekend retreat.
Kaikoura is home to Ngati Kuri – a sub-tribe that is part of the South Island’s largest iwi (tribe), the Ngai Tahu. Maurice Manawatu, a member of Ngati Kuri, set up his guided Maori Tours to bring the town’s rich ancestral knowledge to the forefront. The cultural experience has been in operation since 2002 and its the only one of its kind in Kaikoura.
Here’s something the entire family can enjoy. The Point Bed and Breakfast hosts daily sheep-shearing demonstrations that will educate all visitors, young and old, about the different wool types, shearing equipment and techniques, as well as the different types of sheep breeds on show. If you’re in town between August and January, you might also get to feed and cuddle some little lambs. Bookings are not necessary and the show is suited for all ages.
Set in a contemporary building designed to look like a giant cray pot, the Kaikoura Museum offers an interesting contrast between its rich heritage collections and the modern interiors that have wowed local architectural pundits. Permanent fixtures include a natural history exhibit, an impressive collection of Maori artefacts, more than 40,000 photographic portraits, plus an assortment of quirky trinkets that are unique to the area.
Kaikoura Museum, 96 W End, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand. +64 3-319 7440