What to Do in Kaikoura: The Marine Wildlife Mecca of New Zealand
Nature-lovers, don’t miss this wildlife hotspot on the South Island. Kaikoura attracts a range of magnificent wildlife that many of us wish to see due to its nutrient-rich waters created by an underwater canyon just off its shores. Whales, dolphins, albatross and seals: they’re all seen on a daily basis from the shores, boats and flights on offer in Kaikoura. Of course, there are many land activities to enjoy too, from picturesque walks to indulging in fresh seafood. Find out what you could be getting up to with this list of things to do in Kaikoura.
1. Walk the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
Either making it a 3-hour loop walk from town or a shorter walk from the Point Kean car park, the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway encapsulates the magnificent coastline and wildlife viewings along the Kaikoura coast. The walk features several viewpoints along the way, as well as interpretation panels to learn about the flora, fauna and history of the area. New Zealand fur seals are seen throughout the walk, often lazying on the walkway, so give them as much space as possible and try not to scare them. For more details on this walk and others in the area, see the 5 Best Walks in Kaikoura.
Location: Point Kean car park, 4.4km (2.7 miles) south of Kaikoura
2. Swim with Seals
While seals might not like to be approached on land, they are certainly keen to approach you when in their element: the water. Discover this for yourself on an amazing seal encounter with Seal Swim Kaikoura. After getting geared up with wet suits and being briefed at the Seal Swim base, you’ll enjoy a short bus and boat ride to a local seal colony where you’ll have the opportunity to hop into the shallow water with them. Find out more about Seal Swim Kaikoura on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 58 West End
3. Go on a Whale Watching Cruise
Whale watching is available year-round in Kaikoura and one of the best ways to see sperm whales, dolphins or even other species of whales is on a whale watching cruise. The expert guides at Whale Watch Kaikoura will get you up-close to these ocean giants from their high-speed catamarans. They have a 95% success rate.
Location: Whaleway Road
4. See Whales from the Skies
For an alternative perspective, see the entire length of Kaikoura’s whales from a scenic plane or helicopter flight. Whale watching flights are available with Air Kaikoura (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) and South Pacific Whale Watch (on Viator and Tripadvisor), giving you a unique view of whales and whatever other marine mammals may be seen from the skies. Flights last approximately 30 minutes or can be upgraded for scenic flights over the Kaikoura Ranges too.
Location: Kaikoura Airport
5. Swim with Dolphins
Another marine mammal attracted to the nutrient-rich waters of Kaikoura is the dusky dolphin. These acrobatic and curious creatures provide an exceptional wildlife experience, often seen in superpods! After meeting at the Dolphin Encounter base, you’ll be kitted up with the wetsuit and snorkel gear you need, be given a briefing on how to interact with the dolphins, then transported by boat to find some dolphins who are curious enough to join for swimming!
Location: 96 Esplanade
6. Try Some Crayfish
See where Kaikoura got its name: “Kai” means food and “koru” means crayfish! Crayfish is another word for lobster and its kind of a speciality here in Kaikoura. Try it for yourself at Nins Bin, Kaikoura’s famous roadside caravan. If you’re more into sweet treats, then check out Poppy’s Handmade Ice Cream, another caravan serving deli foods, baked treats, real fruit ice cream and coffee.
Location: Nins Bin – Half Moon Bay & Poppy’s Ice Cream – Esplanade & Shop 18 West End.
7. Feed the Lambs and Watch a Sheep Shearing Show
While the marine wildlife may steal all the limelight in Kaikoura, there’s also an opportunity to meet some of the other animals New Zealand has become famous for – sheep! Point Sheep Shearing at The Point B&B offers daily (and affordable) sheep shearing shows, which take place in a classic New Zealand woolshed. Learn about the various wool types, sheep breed and traditional techniques and tools, some still used to this day. The highlights, arguably, are hand-feeding the majestic Drysdale Ram and even bottle-feeding the lambs, the latter available between August and January.
Location: 85 Fyffe Quay
8. Go on an Albatross-spotting Cruise
An often overlooked wildlife experience in Kaikoura, Albatross Encounter gets you up-close to some of the world’s largest seabirds. As you travel by boat to the edge of the underwater Kaikoura Canyon, your guide will tell you more about these majestic birds with the longest wingspan of any flying bird in the world. The guides will then feed the albatross, often attracting 10 different species of birds right in front of you!
Location: 96 Esplanade
9. Trek with Llamas
If you didn’t come to Kaikoura for the seals, whales, albatross or dolphins, then you probably came for the llamas, right? Explore the Kaikoura coast in a unique way with a friendly llama by your side. Enjoy a stroll with your own llama to carry your belongings in a saddlebag as you make your way to the historic Fyffe House for a picnic with cake and drinks. The walk then ends at the Point Kean seal colony.
Location: Kaikoura Llama Trekking, meet up at the Kaikoura i-SITE car park
10. Catch Some Surf
Did you know that Kaikoura is one of the best surf spots in the South Island? There’s fun for everyone at Ocean Fun Reefs on a sandy beach or find your next challenge at Mangamaunu with fast hollow waves. There are surf schools and equipment hire available in town.
Location: Mangamaunu, 16.5km (10 miles) north of Kaikoura