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Exploring New Zealand

Kaikoura Area Guide

Surf on Kaikoura Beach and snow covered
Seaward Kaikoura Mountains - ©
Kaikoura, on the rugged east coast of the South Island 180 kilometres north of Christchurch, is overlooked by the Kaikoura mountain range and has some of the most stunning scenery in New Zealand.

The Maori name Kaikoura translates as meal of crayfish (kai, meaning food, and koura, meaning crayfish), and the area, which is part of the southern hemisphere whale sanctuary, is known for its whale watching tours and its unique marine ecosystem.

Kaikoura owes its rich marine environment to the deep sea Hikurangi trench which provides unusually deep water close to shore and which, combined with a mix of warm and cold ocean currents, provides a good supply of fish and squid to feed sperm whales and other species. Whale watching tours, by air or sea, are available daily all year round, weather conditions permitting. Look for sperm whales all year, migratory humpback whales in June and July and orca from December to February.

Marine experiences are not confined to whale spotting and you can also choose to go deep water snorkelling with playful dusky dolphins, swim with New Zealand fur seals just off shore, or take a guided kayak trip around the reefs. For a close up land-based experience with seals, walk around the seal colony just before Point Kean at the northern tip of the peninsula. Kaikoura is also an ideal place to observe sea birds, including the huge Royal Albatross, the tiny diving petrel, and little blue penguins and shags.

There is good hiking in the surrounding area, with tracks ranging from the popular half-day peninsula walkway, which takes in limestone formations and seal colonies, to the independent trek up to the top of Mount Fyffe, or you can book ahead to do the Kaikoura Coast Track, a 43-kilometre three-day walk through private farmland and along the coast, which is open from October to April and offers spectacular views.