Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

The Top Free Things to Do in Kaikoura!

Last Updated: 30th August, 2023

Kaikoura is one of the must-see destinations for anyone planning on travelling to the South Island of New Zealand! Located along the stunning eastern coastline only a few hours north of Christchurch in the Canterbury region, it is a hub of outdoor activities. Kaikoura is renowned for it’s abundant marine life and incredible scenery, however the attractions are not always wallet-friendly. Here, I have found the best way to enjoy the magic of this area on a budget, and found the best free things to do in Kaikoura!

Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

If you are looking to explore Kaikoura and enjoy some of it’s other incredible attractions, check out my Travel Guide to Kaikoura here!

8 Top Free Things to Do in Kaikoura

1. Walk the stunning Kaikoura Peninsular Walkway

This is one of the best free things to do in Kaikoura, and is the perfect way to see all that this stunning area has to offer! The Kaikoura Peninsular Walkway begins at the carpark at Point Kean, and crosses the peninsular’s clifftop and into South Bay.

  • Walking Time: 200m – 11.7km one way
  • Distance: 5 minutes – 3 hours
  • Trail Difficulty: Easy walking along a well-maintained track, perfect for families

This track is incredible, giving you a chance to spot a vast array of Kaikoura’s wildlife in a stunning setting! The walkway begins at Point Kean, where there is the famous Kaikoura Seal Colony. Here, you can wander across the rocky tidal platforms and see if you can spot a seal or two sunbathing!

Kaikoura seal colony, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

From here, the walk heads up onto the cliffs until you reach the Point Kean view point. This lookout platform is shaped like a waka (a Maori canoe), and give you incredible views over the seal colony and the mountains. The track follows the clifftops over to Whalers Bay, before dropping back down into South Bay. Through this section, keen your eyes peeled – as you may see the new colony of Huttons shearwaters that call this section home!

Whalers Bay, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Whalers Bay side-trip

There is a small side track off the Kaikoura Peninsular Walkway that will take you down into the secluded Whalers Bay. This track follows a steep stair-way down the cliff, following a former whalers route to the shoreline. Here, you can explore ‘the Sugarloaf‘, a fun wee hill right on the rocks. There are often heaps of seabirds here, as well as the occasional seal hidden amongst the rocks.

Whalers bay, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

From the South Bay view point, the walkway descends to a fully accessible path that leads around the rocky coastline and into South Bay carpark. Here, you will find an awesome information panel, as well as some very well-maintained toilets!

If you fancy making this a longer loop track, then you can follow the track from South Bay, past the marina, back into Kaikoura township via Tom’s Track.

Getting there:

The walkway begins in the the Point Kean carpark, which is located at the end of Fyffe Quay. It is around 8 minutes drive (5 km) south-east from the center of Kaikoura.

South Bay, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

2. Spot some Seals!

Visiting the local Kaikoura seal colony is one of the ultimate highlights in this area – and best of all, its free! Kaikoura is known for it’s abundance of marine life; from seabirds, whales, playful dolphins, and of course, the New Zealand Fur Seal.

The truth is, there are seals everywhere along the Kaikoura coastline! We often play a game of ‘spot the seal’ as we drive up the coast towards Kaikoura, as you are bound to see one or two lounging on the rocks, just out of reach of the wild ocean.

seal spotting, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

The best (and most popular) place to spot seals near the center of Kaikoura is at Point Kean, at the beginning of the Kaikoura Peninsular Walkway. Here, there is a flat, white rocky headland that stretches out into the Pacific Ocean, and a common spot for seals to come and sleep in the afternoon sun. This is an awesome experience, being able to watch these seals in their natural environment – just remember to bring your camera!

As with all wildlife, the seals can be a little unpredictable. Remember to respect them, and stay at least 20 meters away at give them space!

kaikoura seal colony, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Getting to the Kaikoura Seal Colony

To get to the Kaikoura Seal Colony, drive along the Kaikoura Esplanade, and follow the road around the headland past the historic Fyffe House until you reach Fyffe Quay. There is a decent sized car park at the end, where you can walk down onto the rocks and see some seals!

3. Soak up the scenery on the stunning Kaikoura Beach

Kaikoura has got one of the most stunning coastlines in all of New Zealand (in my opinion, at least!) With rocky shores perfect for fossiking, wild waves, bleached white rocks, and the incredible mountains of the Kaikoura mountain range in the background, it’s absolutely breath-taking!

kaikoura beach, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Lucky in Kaikoura, you are never that far from the sea. From the quirky town center, one of my favourite things to do is to grab some classic kiwi fish and chips (or if you’re feeling like having a true Kaikoura experience – lobster and chips) and head on down to the shore, where you can sit and enjoy this incredible scenery completely for free! Just make sure to be on the lookout for those peskie seagulls trying to steal your chippies!

4. Wander around the Kaikoura Farmers Market

If you’re looking for an awesome (and free) way to experience a bit of the local culture, pop down for a mooch around the amazing Kaikoura Farmer’s Market! This farmers market offers a vibrant experience for locals and visitors alike, and is an excellent place to pick up a coffee and a bit or two before heading out on your days adventure.

kaikoura farmers market, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

This farmers market is held every Sunday between October and April, and has a fantastic mix of stalls. Here, you can find local farmers, bakers, and fisherpeople selling local and sustainably-sourced produce. Expect to see a huge variety of veggies, fruit, seafood and wild game, as well as homemade chutneys, baked goods, and wine! Yum!

Location: West End Town Centre, Kaikoura

5. Admire the cultural Maori artworks

Kaikoura has a rich cultural history, which is deeply rooted in the traditions and heritage of the indigenous Māori people. The Māori were drawn to this area centuries ago because of its rich marine life, which provided an abundant source of food. The word “Kaikoura” itself is derived from the Māori language, meaning ‘meal of crayfish’ (kai – food/meal, kōura – crayfish), and you can see why!

Legend has it that Maui used the Kaikōura Peninsula as a foothold to brace himself when he fished the North Island out of the sea. 

All along the drive on State Highway 1 on the Kaikoura coastline is beautiful Māori artworks, celebrating this region and the cultural history. There are over 20 sites featuring works of art to see, created by local artists. They include pouwhenua & tekoteko (carved pillars), vapour blasted murals, laser cut corten steel and information panels, and are found all the way from Oaro to Clarence. This is definitely an amazing thing to do while on your way in or out of Kaikoura!

Some of the notable places to stop and see these artworks are:

  • Rakautara: Home to Nin’s Bin, this is a common rest point along the costal drive. Here, you will find a detailed Maori design blasted into the concrete path, representing Maui fishing up the North Island (a sting ray), while standing on the South Island (his waka).
  • Te Ana Pouri: Just north of Rarautara, this is a culturally significant spot, and features a compass design, with each point offering a name, wind direction, or place in te reo Maori.
  • Ohau Point: This point is themed around the famous seal colony, as well as the Ohau rock daisy. These daisies are prized for their silk like fibers, which can be weaved into a korowai or clock.
  • Paparoa Point: The pou here is of a man named Tūteurutira, who was a chief of Ngāi Tahu. Each stair leading to the lookout displays a name from his whakapapa.

If you are keen to check out these places, as well as see a little more information on the history that each artwork represents, check out this awesome guide here!

6. Hike the Mt Fyffe Summit Track

Dominating the skyline behind Kaikoura is the magnificent Seaward Kaikoura Range, including the iconic Mount Fyffe. These mountains create the stunning scenery that Kaikoura is famous for, golden in summer or snow-capped in winter.

  • Walking Time: 8 hours return
  • Distance: 8.5 km one way
  • Trail Difficulty: A difficult hike with a constant incline along a well-maintained 4WD track

One of the best (although most exhausting!) free things to do in Kaikoura is to get out into the mountains and take in the incredible views on a hike. Mt Fyffe is one of the most popular hikes in the ranges, giving you incredible panoramic views over the Kaikoura Plains and Peninsular. On a clear day, you might even be lucky enough to see Banks Peninsular and the North Island!

Hike up Mt Fyffe, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mt Fyffe Hike Stats

Mount Fyffe is definitely a good challenge, with the hike heading almost constantly upwards until you reach the summit at 1602 meters! The track is almost entirely uphill, but the paths are well formed, so all you need is the fitness to walk uphill for a few hours.

This walk can be done as a day walk or as an overnight trip, with the Mt Fyffe Hut located partway up the mountain. If you are looking for a slightly shorter walk, you can even plan a day walk to Mt Fyffe Hut, which will take around 5 hours return from the car park, and still offer some pretty incredible views!

Trail Description

The trail begins at Mt Fyffe Car Park, which is around 20 minutes drive from the heart of Kaikoura. From here, the 4WD track immediately begins climbing up the southwestern side of the mountain, zig-zagging upwards through regenerating native bush. The track continues along the crest of the range until you reach Mt Fyffe Hut – an awesome place to stop and rest those burning thighs!

The hut is an awesome place to stop and assess the weather conditions, before continuing on to the summit.

The summit of My Fyffe is around 3.5km worth of climbing from the hut, along a slightly narrower track. Once you reach the summit, this little extra slog with be all forgotten as you look over the incredible coastline and crumbly peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Range.

This walk can be done all the way throughout the year, however make sure you’ve checked the weather forecast and are well prepared for anything that the weather gods might throw at you! There is a high chance of snow during the winter months, so make sure you have good boots and a decent jacket!

7. Explore the forest on the Hinau Track

If you are keen to get out into the mountains ranges surrounding Kaikoura, but aren’t quite up to an 8 hour slog up a mountain (don’t worry, I get it!), then the Hinau Track is for you!

  • Walking Time: 45 minute loop
  • Distance: 1km
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy stroll along a well-maintained path

This is a fabulous walk for families and for anyone wanting to get out into the beautiful native bush for an afternoon. Look out for the hinau trees (for which the track is named), with long thin leaves, small white flowers and purple fruit! From the Hinau track, you will also be treated with glimpses of the Kowhai River.

The track begins at the Mt Fyffe car park, and is well formed and very easy to navigate. There are some gentle but manageable hills along the walk, and so it is very family friendly.

Location: Mount Fyffe Car Park – End of Mt Fyffe Road

8. Visit the Ohau Point Seal Colony

And the last of the free things to do in Kaikoura is … (drum roll please) check out some MORE seals! I mean, you can never have enough, am I right?!

This seal colony is one of my all time favorites to visit while heading north out of Kaikoura, and a must-see for the Kaikoura bucket list! This seal colony is located in Ohau Point, around 25 minutes (27km) drive along the coastal highway towards Picton. I love this colony as you are standing on a beautifully-designed viewpoint, looking down onto the rugged rocks below. The rocks are teeming with seals, and the distance gives you can incredible place to watch them in their natural habitat.

Ohau seal colony, Top free things to do in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Ohau Point is also the place that you are more likely to see some adorable seal pups! These pups are a lot more active and playful than the adult fur seals, and you can often see them swimming around in the ocean pools or chasing each other over the rocks. How good!

Location: Ohau Point Lookout, State Highway 1

FAQs – Top Free Things to Do in Kaikoura

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I hope you enjoyed reading my post on the top free things to do in Kaikoura! We love stopping here on our travels from Christchurch to Picton, and always try and have a couple of days enjoying the area.

We love travelling and trying to find ways to make the most out of an area without breaking the bank! So it was an awesome adventure finding the top free things to do in Kaikoura! If this guide was helpful and you are looking for more budget-friendly activities do to on your New Zealand adventure, why don’t you check out my post on the best free things to do in Picton too!

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