The Must-Dos 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 dream of witnessing. This is 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.
If you are only driving by, make sure to schedule enough time to embrace the area two days should be a minimum. Take your pick of activities below to make this stopover the best one on the South Island’s east coast! And now, let’s go over the must-dos in Kaikoura.
1. Watch a Seal Colony Take a Nap
Let’s start our list of the best things to do in Kaikoura with a visit to the local… seals! Seals are taking over Kaikoura! The best place to see seals is along the Kaikoura Penninsula Walkway with multiple viewpoints over seal colonies, as well as plenty of seals probably blocking the path too. Hell, you don’t even need to start walking to see the seals, as there is plenty to see in the car park at the beginning of the walkway. Remember to give the seals plenty of space, as they do not like to be disturbed on land. Plus, if you’re into these adorable marine mammals, take a look at 14 Best Places to See Seals in New Zealand.
Location: Point Kean car park, 4.4km (2.7 miles) south of Kaikoura.
2. Take a Hike on Mt Fyffe or on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
In true New Zealand fashion, next on our list of the must-do Kaikoura attractions is a hike. Climbing Mt Fyffe takes a whole day but will treat you to the most stunning views of the area, from the mountain ranges to the ocean. The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway loop is also a half-day well spent passing in front of a couple of seal colonies. For more details on Kaikoura hikes, check out the 5 Best Walks in Kaikoura.
Location: Specific location details can be found in the link above.
3. Try Some Crayfish
See where Kaikoura got its name: “Kai” means food and “koru” means crayfish! Crayfish is another word for lobster and it’s 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.
4. Swim with Dolphins
Wondering what to do in Kaikoura on a rainy day? Jump in the water! Far from the sad experience of swimming with captive dolphins in a small aquarium tank, Kaikoura’s main attraction is the wild and happy dolphins! The small dusky dolphins are playful and easy to approach, hop on a tour boat, pop on a snorkel, and jump in the water. Tours are available with Dolphin Encounter. For more places to swim with dolphins, see 5 Best Places to Swim with Dolphins in New Zealand.
Loction: 96 Esplanade.
5. Swim with Seals
While seals might not like to be approached on land, they are certainly keen to approach you when in their element. 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.
6. 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. You can book on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: Whaleway Road.
7. Mountain Bike Up and Down Mt Fyffe
The next entry on our list of favourite Kaikoura activities is mountain biking! If the 8-hour hike up to Mt Fyffe is too much for you, get on a bike to get it done in half the time. Be aware that both going up and down will require skills, so if you are unsure, opt for the hiking option instead.
Location: Postmans Road, approximately 13km (8 miles) northwest of Kaikoura.
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. See Whales from the Skies
For an alternative perspective of Kaikoura’s famous marina mammals, see the entire length of 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. For more ways to experience wildlife in Kaikoura, see 5 Top Wildlife Activities in Kaikoura.
Location: Kaikoura Airport, approximately 8km (5 miles) from Kaikoura town centre.
10. 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 breeds 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.
11. 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. With Kaikoura Llama Trekking, 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: Meet up at the Kaikoura i-SITE car park, West End.
12. Catch Some Surf
Did you know that Kaikoura is one of the best surf spots on the South Island? There’s fun for everyone at Ocean Fun Reefs at Kaikoura’s 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.
13. Watch a Kaikoura Sunrise
We’re wrapping up our list of the best things to do in Kaikoura with a stunning sunrise. Kaikoura is on the east coast of the South Island so gets some of the best sunrise views in the country. Head to the coast at dawn to watch some vibrant colours appear in the sky.
Location: Anywhere along the coast of Kaikoura but we particularly like Kaikoura Beach along Esplanade.