Kaikoura New Zealand,

A Travel Guide to Kaikoura, New Zealand

Last Updated: 25st August, 2023

Hugging the beautiful coastline of the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand is the gorgeous town of Kaikōura. Kaikōura, in the Canterbury region, is known for its breathtaking beauty and abundant marine wildlife, and should be on every travellers ‘must-see’ list when visiting New Zealand! 

The name Kaikōura translates to ‘meal of crayfish’, and if this doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will! The town is nestled by the wild Pacific Ocean, where warm and cold currents merge, creating a thriving ecosystem that holds an awesome array of wildlife. From the local seal colonies to dolphins and whale sightings, it is guaranteed to take your breath away!

How to get to Kaikōura

Kaikōura is a coastal town on the South Island of New Zealand, located in the Canterbury region. It is around 3 hours drive north of the main city of Christchurch! As it is a popular tourist destination, it is quite easy to get to, even if you are relying on public transport.

Map of Kaikōura, New Zealand


If you prefer the freedom to explore at your own pace, driving to Kaikōura is a popular choice. From Christchurch, you can take State Highway 1, which offers a scenic drive along the East Coast of the South Island. The journey takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours, allowing you to soak in the stunning landscapes along the way.

Public Transport

Several bus companies operate regular services to Kaikōura from major cities like Christchurch and Picton. InterCity is an awesome bus services that offer comfortable transportation options. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenic journey as you make your way to Kaikōura!

When is the best time to visit Kaikōura?

The best time to visit Kaikōura largely depends on your interests and preferences. Kaikōura experiences mild, temperate weather throughout the year, but there are a few factors to consider when planning your trip.

Monthly Average Temperature in Kaikoura, New Zealand

1. Wildlife Viewing

If your primary goal is to witness the incredible marine wildlife that Kaikōura is famous for, the best time to visit is during the winter months (June to August) and early spring (September). This is when the nutrient-rich waters attract a large number of marine mammals, including sperm whales, dusky dolphins, and fur seals. The colder months also offer excellent opportunities for whale watching, as the waters are calm and clear.

2. Weather and Activities

Kaikōura enjoys pleasant weather during the summer months (December to February), making it an ideal time for outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and exploring the coastal landscapes. The temperatures are milder, and the days are longer, providing ample time to soak in the natural beauty of the region!

3. Shoulder Seasons

The shoulder seasons of autumn (March to May) and spring (October to November) can be a great time to visit Kaikōura as well. During these months, you can experience a mix of pleasant weather, fewer crowds, and still have the chance to spot marine wildlife. It’s a wonderful time to enjoy the natural surroundings and engage in various outdoor activities while taking advantage of more affordable accommodations.

The Best Things to do in Kaikōura!

Kaikōura is an outdoor, animal-lovers dream! With majestic mountains, rugged coastline, and the possibility of tripping over a seal with every step (keep your eyes peeled!), it is a fantastic place to get out and explore the wilds of New Zealand. And of course, if you fancy just sitting back and relaxing with a cold beer and enjoying the stunning view, this is the place for you!

1. Visit Kaikōura’s famous Seal Colony

One of my all-time favourite things to do while visiting this amazing town is to walk around the wild Kaikōura Peninsula and see if you can spot a seal (or 10!). This is a unique opportunity to observe the New Zealand Fur Seals in their natural habitat, and you can see them basking in the sun on the rocks, frolicking in the water, or just generally hanging out.

New Zealand fur seals, also known as kekeno, have a distinctive appearance with their dark brown fur and large eyes. They are known for their acrobatic abilities, and it’s not uncommon to witness them swimming gracefully, diving, and riding the waves along the shoreline. 

Where to see the Kaikoura Seal Colony?

The Kaikōura Seal Colony is easily accessible from the centre of town, and is located right on the Kaikōura Peninsula at Point Kean Viewpoint! Here, you will find a well signposted carpark, with a viewing platforms and stairs that take you down onto the rocks where the seals like to hang out. Keep your eyes peeled, however, as the seals are often up around the car park, and can give you a bit of a fright if you stumble across one unexpectedly!

Make sure that when you are viewing the seals not to get too close! They are generally pretty docile and used to tourists and their cameras, however it’s important to remember that this is their home and to be respectful.

2. See if you can spot some Fur Seal pups!

The only thing cuter than a seeing a New Zealand Fur Seal is… a fur seal pup! Seeing the pups is one of my absolute highlights when visiting Kaikoura, as they are sheer bundles of furry joy. They are a lot more active than the adult seals, and if you are lucky you will have a chance to watch them as they play around in the shallow pools and chase each other over the rocks!

The best time of year to see fur seal pups in Kaikoura is typically just after the breeding season, which occurs from November to February. During this period, female fur seals give birth to their pups on the rocky shores and coastal areas. During the months of April to September, you will be able to spot loads of cute fur seal pups, sleeping on the rocks or splashing and playing in the sheltered rock pools along the coastline. 

One of my favourite spots to see the fur seals is the Ohau Point Lookout. This lookout is around 20-minutes north of Kaikōura, and gives you spectacular views over the sea and the local sea-lion colony. It’s lovely to stand up there on a sunny day, and watch the pubs playing in the water!

3. Explore the stunning South Bay

South Bay is a picturesque coastal area found on the south side of the Kaikōura Peninsula, and is awesome for a day trip! With its pristine sandy beach and crystal-clear turquoise waters, South Bay is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The beach provides a perfect spot for relaxation, sunbathing, and picnicking while enjoying the stunning coastal views. The gentle waves invite swimmers and kayakers to venture into the refreshing waters, offering a delightful way to cool off on a hot day!

South Bay Coastal Walkway

For those seeking a leisurely stroll or a scenic hike, the South Bay Coastal Walkway provides a beautiful trail that winds along the coastline. This easy-going walk offers stunning views of the ocean, nearby mountains, and the chance to spot marine wildlife, including seals and seabirds.

This walk travels along the rugged coastline from South Bay into the centre of Kaikōura, and is around 4km long. The path is well maintained and fairly easy, with steps and walkways along most of the route. The path travels along the coastline and up the cliffs, which give you stunning views of the area! 

There are many incredible places to stop and take in the scenery along the way, with our favourite stop being out at Whalers Bay. This bay is incredibly secluded and peaceful, and away from the normal hubbub of tourists that you will see nearer the town centre. The waters of the bay are calm and crystal-clear, making it the perfect spot to fossick in the rock pools and watch the fur seals as they sun-bath. 

Swimming with the Dolphins

One of the coolest experiences you can have in Kaikōura is the opportunity to have a swim with a pod of wild Dusky Dolphins! Just imagine… out on a boat in the middle of the ocean, diving into the cold blue water and being surrounded by these awesome, playful creatures! 

To begin your adventure, you’ll join a guided tour that takes you out into the ocean on a boat. These tours are led by experienced guides who are knowledgeable about the local marine environment and ensure that the interactions with dolphins are respectful and safe for both humans and the animals.

Once you reach the dolphins’ habitat, you’ll have the opportunity to enter the water and swim alongside these intelligent and playful creatures. The dolphins in Kaikoura are known for their curious nature, often approaching swimmers and displaying aerobatic manoeuvres such as flips and spins. During the tour, they will often come up and swim around you, so close you could almost touch them! They love it if you make noise, and so you end up swimming in circles and singing underwater – what a hilarious sight! 

We joined a guided tour with Dolphin Encounter Kaikōura, a tour-guide company that has been taking people out to experience these amazing marine animals for over 30 years. They supply wetsuits, hoods, fins, and snorkels, as well as a hot cuppa for after your swim! If you are not so confident in the water, or just prefer to view from a lovely spot on the deck of the boat, they also take people for Dolphin Watching tours, so it’s a good time no matter your abilities. A note – this is an extremely popular attraction and can get booked out in the touristy summer months, so make sure to book in early!

Whale Watching

Whale watching in Kaikōura is an awe-inspiring and unforgettable experience! This small town is renowned for its abundant marine life, including several species of whales.

When embarking on a whale watching tour in Kaikōura, you’ll typically join a guided excursion that takes you out into the ocean on a specialised boat. These tours are led by experienced captains and knowledgeable guides who are well-versed in the behaviour and conservation of whales in the area.

As you venture further into the ocean, the guides will provide interesting facts and information about the different whale species you may encounter, such as sperm whales, humpback whales, and sometimes even orcas (killer whales)! The marine habitat around Kaikōura is an important area for the conservation and protection of these species. 

Kaikōura is particularly known for its resident population of sperm whales. These massive creatures can reach lengths of up to 18 meters (!) and are known for their iconic dives, where you will get a chance to see their enormous tail flukes out of the water – make sure to have your camera ready! In addition to whales, you will also have an opportunity to spot fur seals, dusky dolphins, and some of the many seabirds that call Kaikōura home!
One of the best, and most experienced companies that run these Whale Watching tours is Whale Watch Kaikōura (it’s in the name really!). They run tours all year round, and have extra tours in the summer months, however as it is very popular it can book up fast. Check them out here!

Eat a Crayfish!

Now, a trip to Kaikōura is never truly complete without having a big, greasy, delicious portion of fresh fish and chips on the beach. If you fancy experiencing all Kaikōura has to offer, I would highly recommend branching out and trying the local delicacy of fresh Kaikōura Crayfish – preferably doused in butter, garlic, and a slice of lemon! You will have seen big crayfish sculptures around town, including the World’s largest crayfish sculpture on the Lobster Inn. With the town name Kaikōura meaning ‘to eat crayfish’, you can see why its so popular!

All along the coastline there are bins, BBQ shacks, and restaurants that sell fresh crayfish directly from the sea behind them. These are some of my favourites:

Nin’s Bin

Located right on the Kaikōura coastline, Nin’s Bin is a famous seafood caravan that has been serving up fresh crayfish for decades. Their crayfish is cooked to perfection and served with a side of melted butter. You can enjoy your meal while taking in the stunning ocean views.

Cods and Crayfish

Every time I have visited Kaikōura, we always make sure to have takeaway fush n’ chups from Cods and Crayfish, before taking it down to the beach to enjoy with some awesome views. They have lovely fresh fish, decent chips and awesome portion sizes – always important! They are incredibly friendly and the prices are cheap and cheerful, I would definitely recommend a visit.

Kaikōura Seafood BBQ Kiosk

This small BBQ shack is found on the coast just south of the main drag of Kaikōura, and serves up some of the best crayfish we’ve had! You choose your crayfish from the cold bin, and it’s cooked up right in front of you. Along with rice, salad, garlic bread, and a beer, this is definitely an awesome feed – and right on the beach!

The Craypot

If you’re looking for something slightly more upmarket, the Craypot is the perfect place to spend an evening! Situated in the heart of Kaikōura, The Craypot specialises in seafood, including delectable crayfish dishes. Their menu features various preparations of crayfish, from grilled and steamed to served with pasta or in a creamy sauce. They pride themselves on sourcing the freshest seafood available.

Hike up Mount Fyffe

If you fancy seeing Kaikōura and the gorgeous coastline from an incredible perspective, the Mt Fyffe walk is one of the best! This is a challenging walk with a fairly relentless uphill slog, however the panorama views of the coast are worth it!

The walk begins at the Mt Fyffe carpark, which is about 15km from the center of town. From here, follow the path up the mountain’s long, south-west ridge, which will take you all the way up to the summit! The paths on this walk are fairly easy and well-maintained, and so should be do-able as long as you are happy walking uphill for a few hours!

The walk itself is around 18.5kms long, and should take 8 hours to complete the return journey. However, if you are wanting the views but not such a long hike, you could plan to walk as far as the Mt Fyffe hut, which is around 5 hours return and still offers spectacular views!

It’s important to remember to be prepared while walking this hike, as the weather can change rapidly, and in the winter there will be snow! Check out more information on the hike here, and happy walking!

The best places to stay in Kaikōura

Kaikōura has amazing accommodation options, and is well suited to host tourists as they travel through the region! Here I have listed a few options to check out for your stay in Kaikōura, whether you are travelling on a budget or would prefer to enjoy a few more of life’s luxuries!

Boutique Hotels in Kaikōura

There are many incredible places to stay while in Kaikoura, as it is a traveller’s paradise! From stunning hotels with waterfront views, to incredible lodges set in the countryside with a backdrop of the snow-capped mountains, there is something for all preferences!

Te Mahuru Retreat

Te Mahuru Retreat is a beautiful and peaceful B&B, located around 6 minutes drive north of Kaikōura. It is incredibly quiet and tranquil, with rooms having a gorgeous view of the lovely garden and spectacular mountains behind Kaikōura. The best part about this B&B is the private outside hot tub! We stayed here for two nights during our travels, and enjoyed it immensely!

Oasis Hideaway

This AirBnB is run by a lovely lady called Marilyn, and is located just off the main Kaikōura Esplanade, with a short walk down to the beach! The space is in a small building off the main house, with a kitchen, private bathroom and very comfortable queen sized bed! The place feels lovely and private, and Marylin was so helpful and made us feel right at home. This is a popular place to stay, so you can check out the availability here!

Budget Accommodation and Camping in Kaikōura

Kaikōura is a tourist hot-spot in New Zealand, and so often finding cheaper accommodation for those of us on a tight budget can be a challenge. However, never fear! Below are a few options, whether you are looking for a hostel or just somewhere to park up your camper or tent for the night.

Dolphin Lodge Backpackers

Dolphin Lodge Backpackers is a budget-friendly hostel found just a couple of minutes away from the Kaikōura main street! It offers both dorm rooms and private rooms, and as it is a smaller backpackers it is a comfortable and quiet place to stay while visiting Kaikōura. They include free WIFI, a BBQ, kitchen and laundry facilities, and so is an awesome option for those travelling through on the cheap!

Kaikōura Peketa Beach Holiday Park

This holiday park is located a few kilometres south of the town of Kaikōura, in the smaller coastal village of Peketa. This is a lovely campground, and is the only one in the area with campsites right on the beachfront! As it is a little way out of town, the campground is often less overrun with tourists, making it a quiet, relaxing place to enjoy the region for a few nights.

Alpine-Pacific Holiday Park

If you have a camper but aren’t quite self-contained, this is the place for you! The park is found just north of the centre of Kaikōura, and it’s quiet and tranquil. However, as with much of Kaikōura, it can be on the more expensive side, at $50 a night for 2 people!

Freedom Camping in Kaikōura

Freedom-camping within Kaikōura can be more difficult, as it is such a popular tourist spot! Unfortunately, this also means that campervans without a self-contained certificate aren’t able to freedom camp here. If you do have a SCS, there are a few options, just make sure to get in early, as they often get filled!

Jimmy Armers Beach

This incredible parking spot is right on the beach, just along from the seal colony and the Kaikōura Seafood BBQ Kiosk! Talk about primo location! There are 6 freedom camping spots here, so make sure you get in early, otherwise you might not be able to find a park.

West End Carpark

The West-End carpark is exactly that – a carpark, located within the main centre of Kaikōura town. However, this spot is awesome for a wander to the shops to grab a coffee and some kai, or to walk over the dunes down to the beach. The carpark fits a maximum of 10 campers overnight, and opens for freedom camping at 5:30.

FAQs – Visiting Kaikoura, New Zealand

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