Top Wildlife Experiences in Kaikoura

Kaikoura is home to some of the world's most amazing wildlife
Kaikoura is home to some of the world's most amazing wildlife | © RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Richard Barnes
19 March 2020

Kaikoura is best known in New Zealand for its whale watching opportunities, but this destination has much more amazing wildlife than just whales to encounter. Here’s our pick of the top experiences.

Located on the Eastern Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Kaikoura is home to fabulous scenery and incredible wildlife experiences, both at sea and on land. As beautiful as the surrounding scenery is, most travellers come to Kairkoura to experience what is beneath the waves. Just offshore is the 2km (1.25 mile)-deep Kaikoura Canyon where two strong sea currents converge, driving huge quantities of plant and animal nutrients up to the surface. It is this undersea wonder that brings so much incredible wildlife to Kaikoura’s coast.

Dusky dolphins swim in the sea in Kaikoura | © F1online digitale Bildagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Whale watching

Kaikoura was originally founded as a whaling station in 1842, where whalers headed out to hunt the Southern right whale. As the numbers plummeted, whaling was replaced by farming and since commercial whaling was banned in 1964 they have begun to make a spectacular comeback and are now centre stage for all the right reasons.

Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to see sperm whales, the world’s largest predator. These magnificent mammals have become icons of Kaikoura and can be seen all year round. Often showing off their flukes as they dive to the depths, it’s truly one of the natural world’s most breathtaking sights. Sperm whales are not the only whales to inhabit these waters, however. Between December and March you may also encounter orcas and in the months of June and July you could be lucky enough to spot migrating humpback whales.

People travel to Kaikoura every year to experience its whale population | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Dolphin swimming

As well as being home to the mighty sperm whale, Kaikoura’s waters are chock full of dusky dolphins. You can observe these outrageously playful dolphins from boats or you can brave the cold and jump into the sea for the experience of a lifetime. The chances of you seeing dusky dolphins in Kaikoura’s waters are very high. Some lucky visitors get the chance to be in the water with well over 100 of these wonderfully curious creatures.

Dusky dolphins are playful and naturally inquisitive creatures. In the water they will come to check you out and play with you by swimming around in circles. If you try and mimic their behaviour they will swim faster, until they decide to disappear into the blue. Head over to Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura to book onto one of these amazing tours.

Many different species are visible off the coast of Kairkoura | © Matthew Keen / Alamy Stock Photo

Sea kayaking with seals

Kaikoura has a large population of New Zealand fur seals that can be observed from land and sea. It is possible to observe these incredible creatures in their most natural environment on one of Kaikoura’s sea kayaking tours. These tours will give you the chance to find Kaikoura’s fur seals at their most playful, whether that’s relaxing on the ocean surface or porpoising along with the waves and your kayak. Due to Kaikoura’s rich variety of wildlife, there is a chance you may also encounter dusky dolphins and sea birds on these trips.

Seals are less curious than dolphins, but they will still duck, dive and weave around the kayaks as they hunt for food. Being able to see these animals in an environment where they are not threatened or intimidated means you can observe them as nature truly intended.

Organised tours are available to see the fur seals of Kaikoura | © Henk Meijer / Alamy Stock Photo

Spot an albatross on a bird watching tour

Kaikoura is blessed with an astounding array of seabirds and pelagic bird life. Probably the most spectacular and well known among these is the albatross. The holder of the world’s largest wingspan, this bird can be found in Kaikoura all year round.

It’s the sheer variety of seabirds in Kaikoura that make this town’s bird watching tour truly spectacular. When you throw in the possibility of spotting dolphins and seals as well, it’s a great option for bird lovers and ocean lovers alike.

Kaikoura is home to many species of sea bird | © Wildscotphotos / Alamy Stock Photo

Hanging out with the seals at Point Kean

If heading out onto the water is not your thing, then take a drive over the Point Kean to observe the local seal colony. Since these New Zealand fur seals are on land they are very cautious, so keep your distance and be sure not to get between them and the water, which can cause them to be anxious and aggressive.

The chance of seeing these graceful creatures sunning themselves on the rocks is not to be missed. If you’re feeling peckish, there is an excellent food truck serving some incredible seafood close by.

Visit Point Kean in Kaikoura to discover groups of fur seals | © Picture Partners / Alamy Stock Photo

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