After spending 5 weeks traveling around New Zealand, the abundance of epic things to do in Kaikoura easily made it our favorite destination in the South Island. It is very small with one main part of town and charm that only small towns can radiate.
There are no McDonald’s or large shopping outlets. It is the real New Zealand and we love it. Despite the fact that it is a small place, there is an abundance of nature, culture, food and history options to enjoy during a visit.
Our best piece of advice? If you’re traveling to New Zealand, be sure to leave plenty of days for Kaikoura!
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet New Zealand (Country Guide)
21 Epic Things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand
1. Visit the Seal Colony
The seal colony is located outside of the central area of Kaikoura. However, it is a scenic and easy 3-hour return walk from the city center. Due to its popularity there is also a car park located at the point of the peninsula, so access by car is also possible.
This area boasts a resident New Zealand fur seal population that allows you to get an up-close and personal look at these amazing animals in their natural environment. Be sure to read all the posted signs and follow the rules to protect yourself and the seals during your visit. This site is free of charge.
2. Go Fishing
If you’re an avid fisher or even if you’ve never tried your hand at the pursuit before, then Kaikoura is one of the best places in New Zealand to try the sport.
The waters off the coast offer opportunities to catch your own dinner and you’ll find plenty of fishing charters ready to take visitors out to the best spots, where you have the chance to catch the best fish.
Going with a guide will ensure that you are given a bit of local knowledge, and they’ll know exactly what you can and can’t take out of the water, as many of the species here will be protected.
A particular local favorite from the sea is crayfish – and you’ll find it for sale all over town, in shops and in the restaurants and cafes – and the name Kaikoura, in fact, means ‘to eat crayfish’ in the local Maori dialect, such as the abundance of it in the area.
3. Take an Albatross Spotting Tour
As well as being home to whales, dolphins, and seals, Kaikoura is also a popular habitat for the Albatross, an equally fascinating, although somewhat lesser well-known part of the ecosystem here.
You can join an Albatross spotting tour that takes you along the coastline in search of these enormous marine birds. Local guides know where to find them, and you’ll also be given some interesting guided talks at the same time, that will give you a new appreciation of the Albatross.
4. Enjoy the Kaikoura Beach
One of the best things to do in Kaikoura is to visit the beach, to enjoy spectacular views out across the bay and all along the lengthy coastline. Kaikoura Beach is found close to town, and although much of it is pebbly, you can find sandy areas further away that make for great lounging areas.
It’s particularly popular in summer of course – winters here are rather chilly, to say the least – but all through the year, you’ll likely spot people surfing on the waves, or looking out for dolphins and whales on the horizon.
5. Check Out the Fyffe House- Whaling Museum
This little pink building is located on the outskirts of central Kaikoura. It is easily visited on your way to the seal colony whether you are driving or walking. It is the last remaining whaling station in Kaikoura and the foundation of the building is the original whale vertebrae that were used to create the building originally.
There is a small admission to enter the museum of $10NZD per person. A visit will provide you with the opportunity to see the whalebone floor and learn about the history of the whales in Kaikoura.
The history starts with a look at the discovery of the coastline and it’s whales, the occupation of hunting them for their resources and then takes you to today, where they are protected in the marine reserves of the area.
6. Climb Mount Fyffe
Mount Fyffe is one of the most prominent peaks in the area, and climbing to the summit of this imposing mountain is one of the toughest things to do in Kaikoura.
Part of the impressively tall and intimidating Seaward Kaikoura Range, Mount Fyffe stands at just over 1600 meters in height, which considering you’ll be starting your hike from sea level, is a lot of uphill walking.
A well-marked trail leads to the summit from a car park near the base, and the return journey takes on average 8 hours, depending on your level of fitness. Take plenty of supplies and be prepared for the most spectacular views in Kaikoura.
7. Try Some Mountain Biking
With such incredible landscapes awaiting you around the town, one of the more adventurous things to do in Kaikoura is to tackle a few mountain biking trails. You’ll have the chance to see much more and go much further than if you head out hiking and the nearby mountains are very much a playground for bikers.
You can even attempt the Mount Fyffe mountain biking trail, which heads all the way to the summit. It’s a challenge though, and you’ll need to be quite experienced to make it safely
8. Go Hiking in the Seward Kaikoura Range
Although Mount Fyffe is the most popular mountain peak in the Seaward Kaikoura Range, there are many more great hiking trails to be found in the region.
Gear up with provisions and you can spend weeks if you will exploring the great wilderness waiting out there.
9. Go Out Whale Watching
There are two main draws to Kaikoura and this includes the whales. The waters off the coast of Kaikoura are abundant in food for the whales, so there are a few that have made this area their homes year-round. You are most likely to see Sperm whales on your visit.
However, because of the excess in natural resources, there are many other marine mammals that move through this area including humpback whales, orcas, and blue whales.
Also in this area are dusky and hector dolphins and albatross. So if you’re lucky, you may have a chance to spot one of those on your visit as well. Be sure to book ahead with Whale Watch Kaikoura for your chance to see the whales.
10. Try Helicopter Whale Watching
Whale Watching is one of the biggest events along the south coast of New Zealand, and it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Kaikoura. Rather than just taking to the water on a boat tour though, why not take to the skies above for a Helicopter Whale Watching flight?
This unique opportunity gives you a bird’s eye view of these magnificent creatures as they make their way along the coast. Whales are found in the water here for most of the year, and in a helicopter, you’re unlikely to miss them, and you’ll get incredible views over Kaikoura at the same time.
Marvel at Kaikoura’s local whale population from the sky on this short helicopter tour over the Kaikoura coast. Get impressive, head-to-tail views of the sperm whales that live in the Hikurangi Marine Reserve on this unique whale-watching opportunity, led by the only helicopter company that is certified by the Department of Conversation to carry out aerial whale-watching tours.
11. Explore the Peninsular Walkway
The Peninsular Walkway is a great way to get outdoors and to experience the best of Kaikoura’s spectacularly rugged coastline. The walking trail follows the cliffs outside of town that forms the prominent peninsula that’s home to some of the best local wildlife, and it’s one of the most popular things to do in Kaikoura.
Walk the dramatic clifftop path, watch out for whales and dolphins in the water, albatross and other birds flying along the rocks and seals sunning themselves below.
12. Have a Wild Dolphin Encounter
You might have guessed it, but the second of the main draws to this area is a chance to swim with dolphins in their natural environment. There are large populations of dusky dolphins in this area and they love the chance to interact with you.
They are very playful and enjoy having you dropped in the water for them to check out. Curious by nature, they waste no time locating and interacting with you. It is truly a wonderful, once in a lifetime experience that you shouldn’t miss on your visit to Kaikoura.
Be enchanted on a Kaikoura dolphin swim during a 12-hour day trip. Travel via the rolling hills of North Canterbury to the rugged Kaikoura coastline, a whale-watching paradise where you’ll board a sightseeing boat and dive into the Pacific Ocean with a provided wetsuit and snorkel. Swim alongside dolphins in their natural habitat and learn from your guide on how to encourage interaction with one of nature’s most graceful and curious sea mammals.
13. Go on a Quad Biking Adventure
If biking is your thing, but you don’t want to put in for too much exertion, then one of the best things to do in Kaikoura is to go quad biking. It’s becoming more and more popular, as local companies have begun offering tours that take visitors deep into the remote and rugged terrain that’s found in the area.
It’s a great way to see beautiful landscapes and to have a bit of fun too. The quad bikes are easy to handle and will get you off-road and into the dirt for a great day of exploration, just watch out for those stray sheep on the tracks.
14. Visit the Kaikoura Museum
Set in an iconic building in the town center, the Kaikoura Museum is a great place to learn more about the region’s unique history. You’ll discover local culture and heritage, from the Maoris through to the Europeans who arrived here more recently, and you can learn about the geology and the wildlife.
There’s an intriguing exhibit too on the 2016 earthquake that shook Kaikoura and quite literally shifted the scenery, raising the land by a few centimeters and forming new lakes and features.
It’s a quite humbling look at the ever-changing landscape, that will make you feel incredibly small indeed.
15. Eat Fish N Chips at Hines Takeaway
While talking to some locals about finding the best place to eat seafood in Kaikoura, they all recommended we check out the famous Hines (now Tiki) Takeaways. What are they known for? Fish-n-Chips. I must say, seriously the best serving of fish-n-chips I have ever had.
They serve you a huge freshly battered piece of fish and a heaping scoop of chips. Not only are they affordable, but they have been voted the best Fish-N-Chips in the South Island for many years running. If you love a good plate of deep-fried goodness, don’t miss it.
16. Take a Kayaking Trip
On a calm day, the waters around Kaikoura offer the perfect setting for a spot of kayaking. You can easily rent kayaks and canoes in town, or join a tour to be guided along the coast by a local.
Kayaking is a great way to get up close to the colonies of seals that you’ll find lounging on the rocks, and you might even run into a few dolphins or even the humbling sight of a whale as you paddle your way underneath staggering, rocky cliffs.
Explore the Kaikoura coast on a hands-free kayak tour with an experienced guide. Use your feet to pedal your boat, so your hands are free to snap photos of New Zealand fur seals and the scenic shoreline. Choose one of three different kayak routes depending on your interests. Encounter the South Island’s distinctive wildlife up close in a natural environment that’s unforgettably beautiful.
17. Learn About the Maori Culture
The Ngai Tahu Tribe have lived in the South Island, and around Kaikoura for centuries, and today, their descendants call the area home. A family run business, Maori Tours give visitors the chance to experience authentic local culture and traditions.
You’ll explore the area, visiting places of importance in Maori history and learning about the challenges faced by the different tribes both in the past and in contemporary New Zealand. It’s a fascinating insight into the local life, and the Maori people.
18. Eat at Kaikoura Seafood BBQ
So did we find the best place for seafood while in Kaikoura? Yes, yes we did. Every single local we asked recommended the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ and we asked loads of them.
It isn’t located in the central area of Kaikoura however; it is located on the road that takes you to the seal colony. This roadside trailer stand boasts fresh-caught seafood served up grill style right on the side of the road.
The prices are less than half of what you pay in town and they prepare it to order right in front of you. I tried the garlic scallops while David indulged in the crayfish fritter.
Neither of us was disappointed. You can also order the full crayfish that is served up on a platter, because they are huge, to eat like you would a lobster. Either way, do not skip, as it’s the best seafood the town offers.
19. Hapuku Lake
Hapuku Lake is the newest attraction in the region, and one of the most intriguing things to do in Kaikoura. The Hapuku River has long run through the mountains here, but in 2016 the violent earthquake that shook Kaikoura caused the landscape to change dramatically, and quickly.
In the mountains, the earthquake formed an entirely new lake, which has since been Hapuku after the river where the water flows from. It’s a glorious sight, with azure waters surrounded by tall peaks, yet it’s also a frightening reminder of the drastic power of the earth in this part of the world.
You can hike to the blue waters of Hapuku Lake, or you can arrive in style, and join one of the helicopter tours that fly out into the mountains and land right next to the lake itself.
20. Point Sheep Shearing Farm
You can experience another important aspect of local life in Kaikoura by visiting the Point Sheep Shearing Farm. Found on The Point, the large peninsula where you also go to find the many seals that live in the area, this sheep shearing shed run sheep shearing shows when it’s sheep shearing season.
If you’re in town between August and November, you can see the sheep being sheared and even try your own hand at it too. In Spring, you’ll find the place full of newly born lambs too, waiting to make their way into the world.
21. Lavendyl Lavender Farm
Outside the town of Kaikoura itself, conditions are excellent in the countryside for the growing of lavender, and the local Lavendyl Lavender Farm has been doing just that for years. At this local farmstead, you can learn more about these unique flowers and just how they are grown from the staff and owners who run the business.
The best time to visit though is during the blooming season when you’ll find field after field of vibrantly colored lavender plants. January to February are the best times of the year to visit when the colors are at their most vivid.
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